Welcome to Gain Line Rugby’s Team of the Autumn Internationals, on Wednesday we took a look at the fake tan wearing pansy boys, aka the backs. Today we shall delve into the handsome, intellectual portion of the team, the real heroes, the forwards. Not only do these goliaths of the game need the deft touches any back would possess but also the brute strength and bravery of a modern day William Wallace. So let me show you my pick of these beautiful creatures, but to be fair all forwards deserve to be picked.
1 Kane Hames.
It is said that set piece is king and this is exactly why props are at such a premium in world rugby. Without a solid pair you just won’t get any ball. A relative newcomer to international rugby Hames now looks like an indispensable cog in the All Black machine. Not a flashy ball carrier or handler like a Mako Vunipola or the Beast but Hames knows his job and does it extremely well. Judging on the last few weeks he’s probably the finest scrummager in a number 1 shirt and with that he’s a natural grafter and very effective defender. Hames might not stand out so much in all teams but in the New Zealand side where everyone has their job to do and where they prize doing the basics well, he certainly looks world class and someone I think will go on to win many caps.
2 Malcolm Marx
One of the very few shining lights in a pretty dismal Autumn for South Africa. At 6 foot 2 and nearly 18 stone Marx is definitely in the South African mould of just producing the biggest possible players for any position but Marx has the talent of lot of these behemoths lack. A solid scrummager for young man and capable line out thrower but out in the open field is where Marx really shines. Super physical at any opportunity, as you would expect from a Springbok front row, quick and strong in the carry and very good at getting over the ball, he’s obviously been watching the former South African hooker Bismark Du Plessis in that regard, Marx does seem to have all the requirements to be world class in his position. As good as he is though they need to keep hold of him, I would imagine the super rich clubs of France will come calling pretty soon, so lets see where the young Lions hooker’s loyalties lie.
3 Tadhg Furlong
It seems no matter what team I’m picking these days the one constant is Tadhg Furlong, absolutely nailed his claim for the best tighthead in the business and is an absolute rock for the Irish team. An absolute raging bull in the loose, knocking defenders about for fun, as much of the New Zealand team that were beaten in Chicago will vouch for but these days Furlong is much more than that. A few years ago the Leinster man was told that he needed to improve his scrummaging if he was ever going to make it in International rugby and Furlong obviously heeded those words as he is now one of the best scrummagers in world rugby. At only 25 the 20 stone Dubliner has plenty of time to improve, which may scare a few opposition looseheads.
4 Jonny Gray
Scoring against New Zealand and Australia is a pretty awesome achievement for anyone but for a hard working lock it’s a quite extraordinary feat but nothing surprises me from the Glasgow Warriors second row. Gray is a seasoned international and seems to have been around for years but almost unbelievably he is still only 23! Maybe not the most physical of locks, certainly not in the mould of a Eben Etzebeth but there’s more than one way to skin a cat and Gray is right up there with best in my eyes. Gray is one of the hardest working players I’ve seen and often posts stats right up there with any top class flanker. Mark my words, Jonny Gray will be a British and Irish Lion like his older brother Richie.
5 Iain Henderson
Is he a lock, is he a flanker? In my opinion, if you have a flanker that is equally as comfortable at second row then bang him in the engine room and get an extra flanker on the field. Henderson was magnificent against South Africa, the highlight being the run that took right over the top of the flailing tough guy Eben Etzebeth, my highlight anyway. The Ulsterman has always had the talent to make it right to the top of the game but inconsistency and coaches often swapping his position has held him back. I would love to see him given a run at second row for Ireland now to show what he can really do.
6 Vaea Fifita
Fifita has burst on to the scenes in recent months with his blockbusting runs and solid defence. This was certainly on show this Autumn, especially against the Barbarians and Scotland. The Hurricane really does stand out with his long striding and trademark pace but has he done enough to keep the long standing All Black number 6, Jerome Kaino, out of the team? Well looking forward to the next World Cup will Kaino still have what it takes?
7 Hamish Watson
I love this guy, Watson was an absolute pain in the arse for Australia and New Zealand, without a doubt the best player in the northern hemisphere at the breakdown. He gets absolutely everywhere and covers every blade of grass, every ruck Watson hits either results in a turnover or at the very least a slowed down breakdown. I really do think, with Jonny Gray, the openside is instrumental in Scotland’s resurgence and Gregor Townsend will be praying he stays fit especially since the news that John Hardie has been sniffing a little more than smelling salts.
8 Talupe Faletau
Wales’ Mr consistency, the Bath number 8 rarely does a thing wrong does he? I am the first to admit I never rated him until this past Lions tour where I saw how much work he gets through per game. Wales just don’t look half as good when Faletau isn’t there so Gatland will be very grateful to Bath for releasing him outside the international window.