Rugby: Top 5 Blindside Flankers in Super Rugby History
The tenth edition of the greatest players in Super Rugby history series looks at the sport's top five blindside flankers.
Uses for a man in this position can vary largely, based on the team. Whether because of the skill set he possesses, the game plan of the team or the threats posed by the opposition, a variety of player-types have worn this jersey.
However, if you were to describe the stereotypical blindside flanker, he would be a warrior—tough as nails, brutal on defence and brings the physicality that often gets teams on the front foot. Some range wider than others and some may possess better ball skills, but these are mere bonuses as the way they throw their bodies around tends to make them important to their team.
There have been plenty of top players in this position over the years in Super Rugby, but this list profiles five of the very best. Remember, a player who can play multiple positions is only eligible for selection in one position and only Super Rugby form is taken into account
5. Juan Smith
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We begin our list with the iconic Cheetahs flanker Juan Smith. He has often had to battle and work hard to gain respect, never playing on a top team. But the fact the he has forged such a reputation on struggling teams shows how good Smith has been.
He is a strong ball carrier and generally gets through plenty of work on defence. While possibly not quite as devastating as some of the other men on this list, he makes up for this with his continual presence and remarkable consistency.
In 2003 he made his Super Rugby debut for the Cats, playing with the franchise until 2005. In 2006, with the inception of the Cheetahs, Smith moved to the new franchise where he played through until 2011, captaining the side in each of these years. It was announced in 2012 that he would take an indefinite break from rugby in order to allow an achilles injury to heal.
4. Reuben Thorne
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Reuben Thorne wasn't the most flashy player around. But what he did bring was a great work ethic and there are few players who would be more involved in play than Thorne.
He was sometimes called 'the invisible man,' referring to the fact that he was rarely seen in the open during a game. To a casual rugby follower this would seem an insult, but to someone who knows the game it sums up the way Thorne was always so deep in the action.
Along with this he is well known for his leadership skills, captaining the Crusaders from 2002 to 2004. As captain he never failed to make the final, although he won just one championship, leading his team through an unbeaten season in 2002.
He made his debut in 1997 and played through until 2008, finishing his career with 129 Super Rugby caps all with the Crusaders, the most by any New Zealand player. In this time he won seven championships in 1998, 1999, 2000, 2002, 2005, 2006 and 2008. In addition, he was a member of runner-up teams in 2001 and 2004 and was beaten in the 2007 semifinal.
3. Jerry Collins
He began his career predominantly wearing the No. 8 jersey, but as his career progressed he found his home on the side of the scrum and forged a reputation as one of the most devastating players in Super Rugby history.
He was known as a fierce ball runner and an uncompromising tackler who would always make an impact, often changing the game with one play.
When he arrived at the Hurricanes, the franchise was one known for having an extremely talented side but often lacked the dominance up front to perform consistently. Collins went a long way to helping this, being one of the key players to help the franchise transform from an inconsistent team always finding themselves in the bottom half of the competition, to a top contender.
He debuted in 2001 but had to wait to make a true impact, missing the entire 2002 season whilst waiting for an operation on a broken leg. He returned for the 2003 season, where the Hurricanes would make the playoffs for the first time since 1997, but fell short, losing in the semifinals to the Crusaders.
In 2006 he was a member of the only Hurricanes team to ever make the final, losing to the Crusaders in the game most famous for the fog that eclipsed the ground through the entire game. He also made semifinals in 2005 and 2008, before leaving to pursue a career in Europe.
2. Ruben Kruger
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It's a shame his Super Rugby career only lasted five years. But like so many others who have already appeared in this series, he played a lot of great rugby before the inception of the competition. If not for this, Ruben Kruger would have no doubt been No. 1 on this list.
Even so, coming in at No. 2 with so many good players vying for the spot is no mean feat and shows just how good he was.
You would be hard-pressed to find a harder player than Kruger. He gave 100 percent effort every time he stepped on the field and really epitomised what it meant to be considered a true hard man of the game. His leadership skills were outstanding as well and he had the ability to inspire his players with very few words.
Kruger debuted for the Bulls in 1996 where he was something of a talisman, captaining the team for the first two years and continuing to play for the next five.
His rugby career ended tragically in 2000 when it was found he had a brain tumour, after receiving a head knock in a Currie Cup game. He would never play again, but battled on in a fighting spirit typical of the man. Sadly he lost his battle in 2010, passing away at the age of just 39. He will forever be remembered as one of the greatest blindside flankers in Super Rugby history and indeed one of the greatest flankers to ever play the game.
1. Schalk Burger
Many men put their hands up for the top spot on this list. But when it came to it, it was hard to look past the Stormers' hard man Schalk Burger.
His approach to rugby is a fairly simple one: hit everything hard.
Whether he is making a tackle, running the ball or hitting a ruck, he is brutal in everything he does.
Generally fast around the field, he gets to the breakdown early, making him an extremely effective player.
Burger made his debut for the Stormers in 2004, where he made an immediate impact and was one of the key players in ensuring the Stormers would make the semifinals for the first time in five years.
He has since played in every season for the Stormers and despite having some serious injuries, has always returned and been one of the best on show. It took him six years to return to the playoffs, making the Final in 2010 before falling to the Bulls. They qualified again in 2011, this time falling to the Crusaders in the semifinals.