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  • Will Hartshorn

Second Row Pairings – The Best On Show

The mould of a rugby lock is one of the most interesting and diverse position evolutions we have seen in our game. Arguably mapped by the modern second row pioneer who was Victor Matfield, gone are the days that both of your towering forwards are in the side just as enforcers with a decent engine and line out prowess (the ability to throw a punch was rarely overlooked too).


As the World Cup is now flowing nicely, let’s look at the best second row pairs you can find in the game at the moment.


5. New Zealand – Brodie Retallick / Scott Barrett


The seemingly evergreen Brodie Retallick has been a part of these lists for as long as I can remember, a hugely experienced player who has no doubt forgotten more than most people learn in the art of the second row. He is pair with one of the top second rows in the world at the moment in Scott Barrett. You are destined to have a great work rate coming through the side.


For a demonstration of Barrett’s physicality, one must look no further than his shuddering hit on Tate McDermott in the Rugby Championship which forced the unlucky scrum half to knock the ball on and send the All Blacks over for an easy dot down try.


4. France – Cameron Woki / Paul Willemse


The French lock pairing is brilliant and pairs fantastically. The agility, versatility and all-round athletic nature of Woki combined with the enforcing nature of the massive Paul Willemse, I don’t think there is much more to say other than brilliant. One of my favourites to watch.


The lack of Willemse at the World Cup due to injury is a real shame for France.


3. Australia – Richie Arnold / Will Skelton


Will Skelton is the definition of doing what it says on the tin: monstrous second row with great hands, draws players all over the park and opens-up space whether he is ripping through defences or engineering it for his team-mates.


Pairing him is the enormously tall Richie Arnold, a set piece specialist who commands his presence at the line out, he is incredibly beneficial for picking up some of the slack for Skelton in this aspect... because I don’t think anyone fancies lifting Skelton.


2. Ireland – Tadgh Beirne / James Ryan


In a rugby landscape where we are starting to see 4s and 6s become almost interchangeable for most top sides, Beirne fits the mould perfectly. Boasting a fantastic skillset, a work rate to get around the park and immense physicality, he is truly a phenomanal forward.


James Ryan is an excellent, traditional second row. Enforces more than most give him credit for, gets through a boat load of work and is crucial to the Irish set piece. Ryan is the textbook example of one of those guys who people think is good, and he gets by on reputation, but if you were to watch only him in any game, you will be able to feel the full weight of just how good Ryan is. Vastly underrated.


1. South Africa – Eben Etzebeth / Franco Mostert


Eben’s inclusion in this list should come as no surprise, no doubt the best second row in world rugby right now. Despite not being as versatile as the majority on this list, his dominance on the field is unmatched and definitely brings the intimidation factor.


Franco may be more of a surprise, with RG Snyman coming back to fitness now and proving his worth, Franco’s work rate is what earns his spot. He isn’t quite as big as the other two, but the amount of work he gets through combined with just how crucial he is to their line out, he is more than deserving of his spot. Individually both fantastic, paired, unreal.


Honourable mention:

Wales – Will Rowlands / Adam Beard


Wales recorded a huge win in their first game against a resilient and powerful Fijian side, which gives them a huge boost in making their way out of what most would consider, the group of death.


Will Rowland specifically played a monstrous part of that, recording 27 tackles which sits him top of the tree in tackles made so far this tournament. Paired with the ever-disruptive and set piece specialist Adam Beard, you have two great players who pair very nicely in this engine room. Keep an eye on Exeter duo, Christ Tshuinza and Dafydd Jenkins too who will be snapping at their heels looking for more starts.

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