Rugby: Top 5 No. 8s in Super Rugby History
This week we begin the eighth countdown in our series of the greatest players in Super Rugby history. With the backs all done, we now shift our attention to those who do the hard work up front in the forwards.
We begin by looking at the top five players to wear the No. 8 jersey, playing the position that is appropriately called No. 8.
No. 8 provides the link between the forwards and the backs, meaning that while his responsibilities primarily reside with doing the work of the forwards in tackling and securing ball, there is also a need for these players to have a high skill level and be strong ball-runners.
As with every other week, a player can only be chosen for one position so don't panic if you don't see your favourite player here this week. Also, only Super Rugby form is taken into account and any performances for international or provincial sides don't count toward this list.
5. Bobby Skinstad
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We begin our list with the skillful Bobby Skinstad. He was capable of playing at both No. 8 and flanker, but it was at the back of the scrum that he will be best remembered and therefore finds himself included amongst the greats of Super Rugby in the No. 8 position.
His introduction to the rugby world came in a controversial manner, being the man that displaced the inspirational Gary Teichmann in the Springboks for the 1999 Rugby World Cup. By this stage, he had two Super 12 campaigns under his belt but was still considered by many to be behind the former captain in the pecking order. Skinstad had some work to do to justify his selection.
Of course, this wasn't taken into account in making this list as it wasn't a Super Rugby event, but the way Skinstad would go on to create a legacy for himself over the next few years certainly was.
He was a dynamic player, capable of beating a defender himself and also setting up others. He was a reasonably intelligent player and also a good leader shown by the fact he was chosen to captain two different franchises, something not often seen.
His career began at the Stormers where he played for three years between 1998 and 2000 before moving to Johannesburg to play for the Cats between 2001 and 2003. He then left for Europe and wasn't seen in Super Rugby until 2007, when he made his comeback playing 10 games for the Sharks. He finished his career as a substitute in the final against the Bulls, a game his team would go on to lose in the final minute of play.
4. Gary Teichmann
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The great South African and Sharks captain of the late 1990s, Gary Teichmann finds himself at No. 4 on the list of Super Rugby's greatest No. 8s.
Teichmann was born in Zimbabwe, moving to South Africa at the age of 11 where he would go on to become recognised as one of the top No. 8s in the world in the early professional era. Certainly for a period, his captaincy was as good as any going around. Teichmann proved talismanic to the Sharks teams of the early years of Super 12 leading them to semifinals in 1997 and 1998. They also went all the way to the final in 1996 before falling to a rampant Blues team in Auckland.
Teichmann's Super Rugby career came to an end after the 1999 season. He moved to play for Newport in Wales after he was dropped from the Springboks prior to the 1999 Rugby World Cup.
3. Toutai Kefu
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Toutai Kefu was a big, powerful ball-runner who had a high work rate. With ball in hand, he was dangerous, as a support player he was always marked, and on defence, he was constantly pulling off great tackles whether they be in the line or scrambling in the corner.
It was this that made Kefu a constant threat to opposition sides, whether it be through his ability to score when close to the line, to pull in backs with his exceptional speed and tackling ability in the corner, his offload that came in a time when it wasn't used as regularly as it is today or just by getting his team on the front foot.
There was little Kefu couldn't do. Finding a weakness in his game isn't easy.
He was a key part of the successful early Reds teams, who were featured three times in the semifinals, finishing top of the table during the regular season in two of these seasons. In 2001, he was awarded the Pilecki Medal for the Reds player of the year. Kefu left the franchise in 2003 with 103 caps to his name as one of the greats of Super Rugby.
2. Zinzan Brooke
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The great hero of New Zealand and Auckland rugby of the 1990s, Zinzan Brooke finds himself at No. 2 in our list of Super Rugby's greatest No. 8s. Many would rank him as the finest to play the position of his generation, while others would rank him the greatest eight of all time, but the fact that his Super Rugby career lasted just two years sees him slip.
Brooke was a skillful player who was an adept ball-runner, passer and even possessed a good boot. He also possessed tremendous strength and was one of the most competitive players to ever play the game, making him a tough opponent in contact situations.
Brooke's leadership qualities were shown off too in his captaincy of the Blues for the 1996 and 1997 seasons. The Blues won the championship both years and finished 1997 undefeated.
Had Super Rugby begun a decade earlier, there's almost no doubt he would have topped this list. But as it is, it shows just how good Brooke was and how much influence he had.
1. Pierre Spies
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Possibly the best forward ball-carrier in Super Rugby history, Pierre Spies has been a mountain of strength in his years for the Bulls and consequently earns the title of the greatest No. 8 in Super Rugby history.
Spies is a big, fast, athletic player, making him a constant threat on attack and arguably the hardest player to stop since Jonah Lomu. While he doesn't get away with this so much at test level, he is a beast at Super Rugby level, and teams constantly are forced to commit multiple players to stop him.
This is made all the more impressive when one looks at his story. Spies was forced to take a break form rugby in 2007 after blood clots were found in his lungs. It was suggested he would never play again. But it didn't stop him from coming back to cement himself as one of the top No. 8s in world rugby.
Spies has made a habit of finding the line. He has scored 22 tries in his 76 appearances for the Bulls and became as legitimate an attacking option as the likes of Bryan Habana in the Bulls sides of the late 2000s.
Spies gets around the field reasonably well too, although his main selling point comes in his ball-running skill. Admittedly, he has played behind a dominant forward pack which has made his job that much easier, but he still had to execute.
Spies has done that time and time again.
If you need further convincing just look at his record and his importance to the Bulls championship winning teams of 2009 and 2010.