Rugby: Top 5 Halfbacks in Super Rugby History
We are now into week seven of our countdown of Super Rugby's greatest players. This week we finish our time with the backs, by looking at the greatest players to wear the No. 9 jersey.
Halfback, or scrumhalf, is generally considered to be one of the most important positions on the park as it is his service which affects the way the backline is allowed to operate. It goes without saying that a good pass is the main thing that separates the good from the bad in this position. Those who can get the ball away off the ground under pressure give their flyhalf that split second longer to decide what's the best option.
Intelligence in decision making, the ability to snipe around the fringes, a box kick and strong defence in the corner are also traits that various halfbacks possess, with different ones being more proficient in different areas.
As always, each player is only eligible for selection in one position and only Super Rugby form is taken into account.
5. Will Genia
Arguably the best player in the competition in recent years, Will Genia has already shown enough to class him amongst the top five Super Rugby halfbacks ever.
He has a fast pass that has allowed his backline to excel and has helped his partner, Quade Cooper, get the space to run and make him one of the most potent attacking threats in the competition.
But it's the way Genia runs around the fringes that makes him particularly dangerous. He has an uncanny knack of finding gaps in the oppositions defence, sniping through the smallest holes to make a break.
He debuted for the Reds as a 19-year-old in 2007 but only became a regular in the starting line up in 2009 where he began to impress. By 2010, he was elevated to the captaincy role after a season ending injury to James Horwill, a role which he thrived in. In 2011, he was once again brilliant and was arguably the best player in the Reds first and only championship.
At just 24 years old, he's only going to better and clearly has so much more to do in this competition. If he keeps playing the way he has been, it wouldn't be hard to imagine him at the top of this same list in 10 years time.
4. Justin Marshall
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He may not have had the fastest pass, but it's hard to deny the iconic Crusaders' halfback a place amongst the greatest halfbacks in Super Rugby history.
His skill came in his running ability, picking the times when to go and often making good breaks and finding the line on numerous occasions. He was an intelligent player and could read a game exceptionally well. Along with Andrew Mehrtens, he was one half of one of the greatest 9-10 combinations of all time.
Marshall debuted for the Crusaders in 1996 and played with the franchise through until his departure from New Zealand in 2005, winning championships in 1998, 1999, 2000, 2002 and 2005, whilst finishing runners up in 2003 and 2004. His record is outstanding, and he was one of the key member of these teams right up until the very end.
3. George Gregan
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He may not have been the most liked man outside of his home country, but even the most one-eyed New Zealander would be hard pressed to find a reason to leave George Gregan off this list.
If ever there was a player who punched above his weight, it was Gregan, standing at just 174cm and 76 Kg. But you wouldn't know it from the way he played, constantly bringing down much bigger opponents on defence, gaining a reputation as one of the best defensive players of all time.
To go with this, he was a dangerous runner and had a crisp pass, allowing Stephen Larkham to work his magic in what would have to go down as the greatest 9-10 combination in Super Rugby history.
He left Australia as the most capped Brumbies player of all time and the third most capped Super Rugby player of all time, amassing 136 caps between 1996 and 2007. His time with the Brumbies came during the franchise's golden era, winning championships in 2001 and 2004, making finals in 1997, 2000 and 2002, while only failing to finish in the top half of the competition once.
2. Joost Van Der Westhuizen
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He was unusually big for a halfback, standing at 185cm, emerging in an era where the position was traditionally being played by the little man and paved the way for taller men to wear the No. 9 jersey.
It was through Van Der Westhuizen that the dive pass, made famous by the great Danie Craven, made somewhat of a resurgence and it became something of a signature to allow Van Der Westhuizen to get the ball away quickly.
He was a very aggressive player, running strongly with the ball and generally tackling hard, capable of bringing down far bigger opposition.
His record wasn't a great one, playing for the Bulls from 1996 through until 2003 in an era where the Bulls were the whipping boys of the competition, finishing with three wooden spoons and two second to last placings between 1998 and 2002. His only great success came in the inaugural year of the competition, making the semifinals before falling to a rampant Blues side in the semifinal.
His final year with the franchise saw them contend once more, finishing just one point outside the top four in sixth place. This was to mark the beginnings of a great era in Bulls rugby where they would go on to be one of the most feared teams in the competition.
But despite all of this, it's hard to deny Joost a spot on this list. If you look through the players chosen for each position, few of them come from teams that have struggled, and the fact that he played for one of these and still rates so highly points to how good a player he was.
In 2011, it was announced that Joost Van Der Westhuizen had succumbed to a motor neuron disease which he continues to fight, in the same spirit he did on the field in his day.
1. Fourie Du Preez
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The most recent in a long line of great South African halfbacks, Fourie Du Preez tops this week's list and ranks right up there with the best Super Rugby players of all time.
He was a player who had very few weaknesses and is perhaps what separates him from the rest. At his best he was a dangerous runner, a strong passer and an intelligent kicker. It's rare to see all three qualities at such a high level in a halfback, but it was this well roundedness that made him such a threat as defences knew they had three options to cut down. To go with this, he was an intelligent player who knew when to take each option.
He debuted for the Bulls in 2003, effectively taking over after the retirement of Joost Van Der Westhuizen. It didn't take long for him to impress and soon was being considered as one of the top halfbacks in the world.
In 2005, he was key in helping the Bulls to their first semifinals appearance since 1996, repeating the feat in 2006 before winning the title in 2007. He would go on to win two more championships, going back to back in 2009 and 2010, where he was able to stand out in a star studded team and became universally regarded as the best halfback in the world. He played one more year with the Bulls, placing seventh, the lowest of his career, before heading to Japan after the 2011 Rugby World Cup.