The domestic rugby season is almost upon us after a busy summer of international rugby which saw historic results almost everywhere you looked.
Ireland defeated New Zealand in a series for the very first time and rose to world number one, England backed up their series victory in Australia in 2016 with a 2-1 series win, while France extended their winning record to 10 – equalling their biggest-ever streak that dated back to 1937.
There was also history made for Wales, as they won their first ever Test in South Africa, and Italy, whose victory over Romania was their first in Transylvania in more than 30 years, and while Scotland were left disappointed with a 2-1 series defeat in Argentina, they were victorious in the second Test with a heavily depleted side.
And after such a busy summer, it is time to continue our positional power rankings, this time looking at the top five hookers in European Rugby.
Dan Sheehan was a massively important part of Ireland’s historic series winning side in New Zealand this summer, after an impressive Guinness Six Nations as Ireland secured the Triple Crown.
The 23-year-old Leinster hooker started all three Test matches against the All Blacks and is making a strong claim for the Ireland No.2 jersey long-term in the absence of the injured Ronan Kelleher.
He made an impressive 84 metres across the three matches, as well as more than ten tackles per match (31 in total) in an Ireland forward pack that were simply on fire, while he was ranked 22nd for metres made (7th for forwards and the most at hooker) in the 2022 Guinness Six Nations.
Sheehan’s form for both club and country have ensured that he is top of the pile going into the new season, and he will certainly be one to look out for once again.
Perhaps unlucky to lose his place at the top of this list, Julien Marchand drops to number two after being rested this summer for the tour to Japan.
There is no doubt that Marchand is among the very top players in his position not just in Europe but in the world – emphasised by his astounding performances during the run to the Grand Slam in last year’s Guinness Six Nations.
Marchand played in 268 minutes across the Championship, averaging 53.6 minutes per match, yet he sits joint first for turnovers in the hooker position (three, joint with Dewi Lake) and made 20 tackles.
In attack he was also a very useful weapon, making 134 metres from just 37 carries, at an average of 3.62 metres per carry – only behind Sheehan and Ryan Elias in the hookers pecking order at the Guinness Six Nations.
Add in his incredibly reliable set-piece, and it is little surprise that Marchand has emerged as one of the key members of the France pack.
3. Ryan Elias (Wales)
One of the most improved players in Europe last year, Elias has quickly jumped from a dependable hooker to one of the top hookers in the world.
It was during the Autumn Nations Series that Elias first began to make a serious impression, scoring three tries, with a brace in the 38-23 win over Fiji, and another try in the 29-28 win against Australia the week later.
He backed those performances up with a Player of the Match performance against Scotland in the Guinness Six Nations and made an astounding 46 tackles, comfortably more than any other hooker in the Championship.
In an otherwise difficult Guinness Six Nations campaign, Elias was a very bright spark which saw him start all three Tests in South Africa, impressing once again – at just 27, Elias has plenty of time to further impress in a Wales jersey.
After being left out of Eddie Jones’ Autumn Nations Series squad initially, George responded by scoring a pair of tries against Tonga upon his recall after Luke Cowan-Dickie’s injury.
And he has simply continued to make the No.2 jersey his own, with a collection of outstanding performances against South Africa and Australia before once again excelling during the Championship, scoring two more tries for England in the 33-0 win over Italy.
His best performance perhaps came in a 32-12 defeat to Ireland, when England were a man down for virtually the entire match, but the front row, and especially George and Ellis Genge really caught the eye.
In Australia in 2016 George hacked the ball through for a famous English try scored by Owen Farrell, and in 2022 he was again a key player, starting all three Tests as England defeated the Wallabies Down Under for the second time under Eddie Jones.
France are in such a good place across the pitch at the moment that they could probably have almost two players per position and it is no different at hooker, with Peato Mauvaka joining French teammate Marchand on the Guinness Six Nations hooker power rankings.
In Marchand’s absence, Mauvaka started both Tests in Japan, further nailing down his place in the matchday squad as the Rugby World Cup nears, and applying pressure to Marchand in the battle of the starting hookers.
Another young hooker at just 25, Mauvaka has already amassed 16 caps for France, scoring five tries.
Incredibly all five of those tries were scored in last year’s Autumn Nations Series, with Mauvaka coming off the bench against Argentina where he crossed for a crucial score before adding two more against Georgia, again as a replacement. He then started in the 40-25 win over New Zealand where he again scored twice in a dominant first-half display.
A truly impressive hooker to watch with a skillset that could allow him to play in the three-quarters if required, Mauvaka undoubtedly has a lot to give in the upcoming season.
Ronan Kelleher earned a mention earlier and he is someone who would likely have been in this list had he not suffered an injury during the Guinness Six Nations. Ewan Ashman is another who has really caught the eye after his impressive campaign in Argentina – scoring two tries in the third Test.
Fellow Scot George Turner is another who is perhaps unlucky to miss out as is Welsh super sub Dewi Lake, whose try in the first Test was simply outstanding. Italian Gianmarco Luchessi is another to keep an eye on heading into the new season – he will be just 22 in September, and with 14 caps already to his name is fast becoming a key member of the Azzurri squad