RANKED: The five most LETHAL forwards heading to the Rugby World Cup

James While
Charles Ollivon and Samisoni Taukei'aho

As the Rugby World Cup approaches, promising more tries than we’ve ever seen before, Planet Rugby’s James While believes that whitewash crossing forwards are the key to success.

Here’s the top five in the world right now, ranked.

5. Michael Leitch (Japan)

Tests: 69
Tries: 19
RWC tournaments: 3
Try ratio: One every 3.63 Tests

New Zealand-born Leitch is arguably, alongside Eddie Jones, the single most important figure in Japanese Test match history after moving to the country aged 15. The brawny back-row, capable of playing in any of the three positions, has an incredible nose for the try-line as evidenced by his 19 scores in 69 matches.

His crowning glory game in September 2015 in Brighton as he opened the scoring in Japan’s most famous win – against the Springboks in the World Cup.

He might be in the autumn of his incredible and iconic career, but expect him to find his way over the try-line as his wide channel support once more comes to the fore. A world class player, leader and ambassador for rugby worldwide.

4. Ardie Savea (New Zealand)

Tests: 70
Tries: 20
RWC tournaments: 1
Try ratio: One every 3.5 Tests

Without doubt, one of the most entertaining and talented players of his generation and a natural heir both to the shirt number and skillset of his hero, the great All Black eight, Zinzan Brooke, Savea‘s athleticism and dynamism make up for any perceived lack of size.

Few games go by without Savea contributing enormously in both attack and defence. Limpet-like over the ball, capable of outrageous dummies and blessed with international sevens level gas, Savea is the fire in the All Black belly, the go-to player of incredible ability and arguably the best number eight in the world.

With 20 tries in his 70 Tests, Savea has that priceless knack of putting bums on seats – the ultimate entertainer in a team that craves attacking rugby. Remarkably, this is only his second Rugby World Cup despite his 70 caps – and one where he’ll be keen to lead New Zealand out of a very competitive half of the draw.

3. Juan Martin Gonzalez (Argentina)

Tests: 20
Tries: 6
RWC tournaments: 0
Try ratio: One every 3.33 Tests

Tall and leggy, Gonzalez emerged into the Test rugby scene in 2021, scoring on debut versus Romania.

Completing a formidable back-row for Los Pumas alongside the powerhouses of Marcos Kremer and Pablo Matera, he and his cohorts were arguably the standout unit in the 2022 Rugby Championship, getting wins against Australia and New Zealand, both victories punctuated by a Gonzalez try.

His interplay down the middle of the pitch with Matera has become a feature of Argentina’s play, as the big flank also created three try assists in that campaign.

Now plying his trade at London Irish where he’s notched up six tries in 35 matches, his support in the wide channels and lineout brilliance has lit up the Premiership all season. With age on his side at 22, Gonzalez is set to be another wonderful asset to an ever-improving Los Pumas.

Rugby needs to beware of this youngster; Argentina will bloody some noses at the 2023 Rugby World Cup and Gonzalez punches as hard as anyone.

2. Charles Ollivon (France)

Tests: 33
Tries: 12
RWC tournaments: 1
Try ratio: One every 2.75 Tests

Australia head coach Jones recently observed that if Antoine Dupont is the best player in the world, there’s a strong argument to suggest that Toulon and France’s Ollivon is in second place behind him.

A huge man at 6’7″ and 118kgs that’s capable of playing anywhere in the back five of the pack but favours the right flank in the French left/right back-row format, Ollivon’s remarkable strike rate of a try every 2.75 matches is the best in Test match history for any forward who has 25 Test appearances or more.

Known to all as The Boss for his leadership qualities, Ollivon is the complete flanker – a lineout genius with one of the best steal rates in the game, a master of turnover, omnipresent at ruck and breakdown and with enough pace to habitually run in 30m and 40m finishes. Many will remember a rather remarkable 73m effort for the Barbarians versus England last season where he intercepted a Harry Randall pass to then sidestep Charlie Ewels and gas both Tommy Freeman and Randall to power over the line.

The 2023 Rugby World Cup could define his injury hit career and, if he maintains his current form trajectory, cement his status as an all-time great of French rugby and beyond.

1. Samisoni Taukei’aho (New Zealand)

Tests: 21
Tries: 10
RWC tournaments: 0
Try ratio: One every 2.1 Tests

Taukei’aho was first spotted while he toured New Zealand as captain of Tonga’s U15s team and in 2014 he moved to St Paul’s Collegiate in Hamilton.

Called into the All Blacks squad in 2021 for the Steinlager Series against Fiji and after Dane Coles pulled up with a tight calf during the week of the second Test in Hamilton, he made his Test debut off the bench, scoring two tries – a portent of what lay ahead.

It might be argued that the 2022 Rugby Championship was the Tongan-born hooker’s breakthrough year, as he topped the try-scoring table with five, above some of the world’s finest backline finishers, snaring scores against all of his opponents, including three against the Wallabies.

Squat, powerful and lethal from short drives, Taukei’aho follows the tradition of the likes of Codie Taylor and Coles (both of whom average a try every 4.1 matches) in the black number two shirt as essential finishers with ball in hand, and he will travel to France hoping his try-scoring antics can ensure New Zealand’s progress out of a very tricky half of the draw.

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