Rugby: Top 10 Locks in Super Rugby History

Jeff Cheshire@@jeff_cheshireAnalyst IIJune 21, 2012

Rugby: Top 10 Locks in Super Rugby History

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    Our series of the greatest players in Super Rugby history is back, with this edition looking at the top ten locks in the competition's history.

    Lock might not be the most glamorous position on the field. The work of these men tends to go unnoticed, as they look to hit rucks, secure the ball, make tackles and win the line-out ball. This means they quite often go unnoticed to the untrained eye.

    The contribution of the locks can never be understated. They, along with the front row, are key in gaining ascendancy up front, allowing the loose forwards to range, and the backs to operate with front foot ball. Without good ball, it is nearly impossible to win a game, and it is this more than anything that shows the importance of a tight forward.

    This list looks at ten of the best locks in Super Rugby history. The number doubles for this list as there are two locks on the field, so therefore twice as may players vying for the position.

    The usual rules of only being picked based on Super Rugby form and only being considered for one position still apply. 

10. James Horwill

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    We begin our list with current Reds captain James Horwill. 

    Horwill is a player possessing a very good all round game, capable of being a safe option at line-outs and mobile around the field. He is a skilled player with the ball in his hands, and also possesses good skills at the breakdown which aren't often seen from locks. 

    He has captained the Reds since 2008, although injuries have seen various others have to step in and fill those boots in his absence. In 201, he was able to remain fit for the majority of the season, and after missing most of the previous season, his presence was noticeable, being a key figure in the Reds' championship winning team of 2011.

    At just 27, Horwill still has plenty to offer this competition and has every chance to rise up this list should he keep playing the way he has.

9. Todd Blackadder

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    Todd Blackadder was a no-nonsense player who epitomised what it meant to play ugly. He began his career as a blindside flanker, but became best knowing for locking the scrum.

    He wasn't a flashy player by any means, but could always be relied upon to put in a top effort, and was always prominent in the tight. Perhaps his best attribute came in his leadership skills, captaining the Crusaders to a three-peat of championships between 1998 and 2000. 

    He played six years for the Crusaders, debuting in 1996 and playing through 2001. He now coaches the Crusaders, taking a similar approach to coaching as he did to captaincy—maintaining the same high standards, ensuring the Crusaders are still very much one of the top teams in Super Rugby.

8. Brad Thorn

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    One of the most iconic players in the game over the past few years, and undoubtedly one of the great hard men of the game, Brad Thorn is the second Crusader to appear as one of the best locks in Super Rugby.

    He was a true hard man, hitting everything with meaning and getting through a mountain of work. His impact could always be noticed, and one only had to look at the way he flew into a ruck to see why many regarded him as one of the top locks in the world.

    Thorn was a convert from Rugby League, where he had played for the Brisbane Broncos in the NRL for seven years. He was widely acknowledged as one of the top players in the world in this code, representing Australia on eight occasions and making State of Origin appearances for Queensland. 

    But in 2001, he decided to try his hand at Rugby Union, returning to his native New Zealand to play for the Crusaders. He initially started as a looseforward, but moved into lock where he flourished. In 2005, he returned to Rugby League where he played a further three seasons with the Broncos and regained his State of Origin spot.

    In 2008, he returned for another stint with the Crusaders, and it was during this time that he became recognised as the player he had become. He played through 2011 before leaving for Ireland. In his time at the Cruaders, Thorn won championships in 2002 and 2008, finishing second in 2003, 2004 and 2011, whilst qualifying for every semifinals series with the exception of his first one in 2001.

7. Robin Brooke

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    Yet another member of the dominant Blues teams of 1996 and 1997 features in our series. This time it's the ever-present Robin Brooke, brother of the iconic No. 8 Zinzan Brooke.

    Although over-shadowed by his older brother for most of his career, Robin Brooke possessed many of the same qualities that made Zinzan one of the all-time greats. He had great ball skills, was very mobile and had a hardness to his game. He also captained the Blues from 1999 to 2001.

    He had played a lot of his best rugby in the years before Super Rugby, but still played six seasons for the Blues, in which he was a key player. In this time, he won championships in 1996 and 1997, finishing beaten finalists in 1998. He retired after the 2001 season.

6. Mark Andrews

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    The first South African player to appear on our list, Mark Andrews was truly a stalwart of the Sharks' franchise in the early years of the competition.

    He was an outstanding line-out jumper, amongst the best in the world, and ensured his team won the majority of the ball in this department. His work rate around the field and his leadership skills were good, too, and he captained his team in his last two seasons.

    He played for the Sharks between 1996 and 2002, reaching the Final in 1996 and 2001, and making the semifinals in 1997 and 1998.

5. Nathan Sharpe

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    He is the most capped Super Rugby player of all time. A tireless worker, a good line-out jumper and an excellent captain, Nathan Sharpe is truly one of the most iconic figures in the competition's history.

    It is a combination of these qualities that have made Sharpe such a valuable player over the years. But what really makes him one of the greats is the way he has been able to maintain such a high level of consistency over such a long period of time.

    He made his debut in 1999 with the Reds, where he played seven years. Upon the competition's expansion in 2006, he moved to the new Australian franchise the Force, where he has remained ever since and been a key player. In his career he has played 160 games, the most of any player in the history of Super Rugby.

4. Bakkies Botha

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    The hard man of South African rugby for so long, Bakkies Botha was always a force on the field. 

    There are few players who played as hard as Botha, hitting everything hard and getting through a mountain of work. If ever the term enforcer was to be used to describe a player, it would be Botha.

    He was never far from controversy, getting himself into trouble on numerous occasions, having been accused of biting, eye-gouging, head-butting and being one of the main culprits of various fights over his career.

    But whether you like him or dislike him, it's hard to ignore the impact Botha has had on Super Rugby over the past decade.

    He locked the scrum for the Bulls between 2002 and 2011, where he formed a legendary combination with Victor Matfield, a pair which complemented each other almost perfectly. During this time, Botha was a member of three championship winning teams, winning the silverware in 2007, 2009 and 2010.

3. Chris Jack

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    Chris Jack was a consistent performer and stalwart in the Crusaders jersey. A big, athletic lock, he was one of the best produced by New Zealand in the professional era.

    Jack was a hard worker around the field, capable of being effective in both the tight and the loose. This made him especially valuable, as he could be used to fill different roles depending on who was around him. He was a strong ball runner, a reasonable line-out jumper and a hard tackler.

    He first played for the Crusaders in 1999, but with Todd Blackadder and Norm Maxwell the first choice locks, he had to wait to make a real impact in the competition. It wasn't long before the world saw what he was capable of though, as he played a key role in the franchise's success over the next decade. He won championships in 1999, 2000, 2002, 2005 and 2006, coming in second in 2003 and 2004. 

    After 2007, he left to take up a contract in England. But he returned in 2010, with an eye on regaining his All Blacks spot for the World Cup the following year. Although he showed glimpses of his former self, he never consistently regained the form he had enjoyed earlier in his career and operated mainly as a bench player behind Brad Thorn and Sam Whitelock. 

    He retired after the 2011 season.

2. John Eales

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    He was nicknamed Nobody, referring to the fact that nobody's perfect. Few that saw him play would argue with this. A true great of the game, and possibly the greatest Australian player of all time, John Eales comes in at No. 2 in the greatest Super Rugby locks of all time.

    There was little this man couldn't do. He was a hard worker around the field, an excellent line-out jumper, a skillful player and an inspirational leader. He could even kick goals.

    As is the case with many of the players from the earlier years of the competition, Eales played a lot of his rugby before the inception of Super Rugby. Despite this, he still had six years in the competition, playing and captaining the Reds between 1996 and 2001. During this time the Reds were a always a threat, qualifying for the semifinals in three of these years, twice finishing as top qualifier. 

1. Victor Matfield

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    The greatest lock in Super Rugby history, and quite possibly the competition's best player for the majority of the past five years. A good line-out jumper and a hard worker around the field, there was little to fault in Matfield's game, and it wasn't often that he wouldn't have a good game.

    His best asset came in his line-out jumping, where he was the best jumper in the world for many years, and would make a very good case for being the best since the inception of lifting. He had excellent technique and could time his jump to perfection to win not only his own ball, but also steal a good deal of his opponent's ball. He was an intelligent jumper too, capable of deciphering other team's line-out calls and marking up where it was likely to be thrown.

    This made him a very dangerous player. But he wouldn't have come in top of this list if this was all he could do. He was also a hard worker around the field, getting around the field well, making tackles and hitting rucks. He always kept a calm head, an ability which saw him captain the Bulls for six seasons.

    Although he played the majority of his career with the Bulls, Matfield began with the Cats, playing two seasons there in 1999 and 2000, making the semifinals in 2000. He then moved to the Bulls, where he played from 2001 to 2007. During this time, he was instrumental in turning the franchise from one of the worst teams in the competition to one of best. He went to Europe after this for a year, so he missed the 2008 season, but returned to play three more seasons, retiring after the 2011 season.

    During this time Matfield won championships in 2007, 2009 and 2010, and he was arguably the most influential player in each of these teams. He also made semifinals in 2005 and 2006. But possibly the biggest teller of his importance comes in the fact that the year he was absent, the Bulls finished a lowly 10th, winning championships on either side.