With the Rugby World Cup looming, Planet Rugby will be taking a look at the units of a team to measure who has the advantage in the lead-up to the tournament.
The series continues with the heart of the backline and players that are required to complete a variety of tasks in their role; the centres.
5. New Zealand: David Havili/Jordie Barrett and Rieko Ioane
Whether Havili will be back from injury and playing at a high enough level for the showpiece in France remains to be seen. However, both he and Barrett offer a ball-playing option at 12 while also being comfortable putting boot to ball.
Havili almost always makes Richie Mo’unga inside him look better by sharing some aspects of the role and freeing the playmaker up. The centre is also a playmaker himself and is certainly a threat with ball in hand. Barrett is probably the more direct runner of the two and has a gun for a boot.
Either way the selection goes, Rieko Ioane will no doubt be at 13. The star recently extended his stay in New Zealand until 2027 and deservedly so. He could be considered the most lethal and pacey outside centre in the game at the moment and with 59 Test caps at the age of 26, Ioane has so much more to give to the game. Make no mistake he is a game-breaker in every sense of the word and he will only get better.
Rieko Ioane ✍️ 2027 pic.twitter.com/cA8eweNRRd
— All Blacks (@AllBlacks) April 16, 2023
Strengths: X-factor, try-threat and kicking out of hand
Weaknesses: Unsure of their best combination
4. South Africa: Damian de Allende and Lukhanyo Am
The Springbok duo have been the first choice in green and gold for some time now, largely due to the balance in the combination in relation to the team’s game plan.
De Allende’s ability to relentlessly carry the ball up and almost always make metres provides a good platform for the Boks to set their structures. He is a brave player who has always been committed on defence. The former Stormers and Munster man is a massive physical presence in the middle of the park and one that is very reliable.
Outside of De Allende is Am, who has become renowned for his silky touches, outstanding game awareness and astute defensive prowess. The Shark is arguably one of the most important Boks and his absence is always felt particularly in the defensive shape. 13 is the hardest place on a rugby field to defend and requires a clever rugby mind and clear decision-making to excel; all of which Am has in droves.
Perhaps the pair could be higher up the list if they were afforded more of a chance through game plan and structure but it is certain that this centre pairing is very reliable in executing fundamentals.
Strengths: Physicality, reliability, defensive understanding
Weaknesses: Could be more dynamic, heavy reliance on Am
3. Scotland: Sione Tupulotu and Huw Jones
Probably the most popular centre pairing in world rugby at the moment, ‘Huwipulotu’ rose to prominence in this year’s Six Nations after the duo performed brilliantly to be named in the team of the tournament.
The most impressive aspect is the synergy between the two. Both have great qualities but the way the pair combine them is brilliant. Tuipulotu can be robust and brutal with ball in hand but can also throw the most deft of passes. He is a very, very intelligent rugby player and that is clearly evident on the field. He assisted his centre partner in three of Jones’ four tries in the Six Nations.
Jones compliments Tuipulotu well through the sensational angles he runs in support and attacking structure. The Glasgow man has always been good at picking his lines but through his partner has been able to unlock defences more frequently and in turn is showcasing his power running and try-scoring nature.
Adding to their armoury is the understanding of both players of the roles of inside and outside centre. The duo can often be seen switching between the two positions in-game. The best part is that they will only get better as they both play for Glasgow Warriors.
1:43 of Huwipulotu being Huwipulotu 🔥
— Glasgow Warriors (@GlasgowWarriors) March 30, 2023
Strengths: Synergy, line-break ability
Weaknesses: Play better as a combination than individually building reliance on both
2. France: Jonathan Danty and Gael Fickou
The Les Bleus centre pairing is truly brilliant and contested very closely for the top spot in the rankings due to their impressive attributes and balance.
Danty is a huge asset and is pretty much a flank who wears 12. With ball in hand, he is brutal and will go hard at defences all day long either running them over, getting over the gain line and/or playing in one of his teammates. On the other side of the ball he is a committed defender and is very accomplished over the ball, which is where some of the flank comparisons originate from.
Next to him is wise and experienced Fickou, who is one of those players who never seem to make many notable errors. Like most outstanding 13s, the Frenchman is a master of defence and defensive shapes. He is a key decision-maker for France and a very reliable one at that. With ball in hand he is lethal if he turns to his running game, can distribute well and can even spark some magic will his boot.
Ultimately the duo are right up there with the best in the world and it is clear to see why. Heading into a home World Cup the French centre pairing will be hoping to set the biggest stage alight.
Strengths: Defensive prowess, decision-making
Weaknesses: Danty’s injury woes
1. Ireland: Robbie Henshaw and Garry Ringrose
The top centre pairing in the world is fittingly from the best team in the world and this year’s Grand Slam champions. Interestingly the pair are probably the most complete players in their respective positions in the world.
Henshaw struggled with injury earlier this year but has returned and always looks brilliant when he plays. He is a ball-playing 12 who can take it to the line or distribute to those around him. His support lines are sound and he is committed to the kick-chase. A player who can also play 13 and one with an impressive rugby IQ.
Then there is Ringrose, who was already world-class but has transcended into a different sphere this season. The outside centre is the most complete star on the list with exceptional skills across the board. Going forward he is almost as lethal as Ioane, defensively as good as Am or Fickou with a complete skill-set to match. Ringrose has also grown as a leader which has helped him take his game to another level. Put plainly, the centre is a coach’s dream.
𝘖𝘯𝘦 𝘮𝘪𝘯𝘶𝘵𝘦 𝘢𝘯𝘥 𝘵𝘩𝘪𝘳𝘵𝘦𝘦𝘯 𝘴𝘦𝘤𝘰𝘯𝘥𝘴 ⏰
— Heineken Champions Cup (@ChampionsCup) April 7, 2023
Impressively Ireland have shown their depth through Stuart McCloskey and Bundee Aki in particular.
Strengths: Beautiful balance, rugby IQ, complete skill-sets, depth
Weaknesses: Henshaw’s injuries
England boasts decent centre stock, especially after Ollie Lawrence’s breakthrough during the Six Nations. He looks dangerous and very useful, there is also Manu Tuilagi and Henry Slade who are brilliant players. What remains is for head coach Steve Borthwick to find his best combination.
Argentina also have solid centres in Jeronimo de la Fuente, Matias Moroni and Matias Orlando who are all quality rugby players. All three will be key in their World Cup charge.