Power Rankings – Our top five Northern Hemisphere No.8s

A new season of rugby is moving ever closer and there will be several key players to keep an eye on as it gets underway.

A new season of rugby is moving ever closer and there will be several key players to keep an eye on as it gets underway.

With an Autumn Nations Series, Guinness Six Nations and Rugby World Cup all taking place within the next 14 months, the very best in the world will be hoping to thrive on both the domestic and international stage.

Northern Hemisphere rugby has rarely been as strong as it is at the moment with Ireland top of the world rankings, France second and England beating Australia in this summer’s Test series.

Here, we take a look at our five best No.8s from the hemisphere and look at what mark they could make in the upcoming campaign.

1) Grégory Alldritt

Despite not featuring for France in their two-match summer series against Japan, Grégory Alldritt remains a dominant figure in not only the Northern Hemisphere but the global game too.

The 25-year-old is a hugely important player for his nation and was a key ingredient for France earlier this year when Les Bleus won the Grand Slam and their first Guinness Six Nations title since 2010.

And it is not only in the international fold where he demonstrated his skill, being part of the La Rochelle side that upset the odds to claim the Heineken Champions Cup title this spring.

With a home Rugby World Cup looming next autumn, France will be looking for a strong 12 months as they look to cement their place as one of the favourites and win the title for the very first time.

In Alldritt, they have a player who carries as much as any forward in the game, threatens a turnover at every breakdown and has deft hands – as demonstrated by his offload to put Antoine Dupont in for the clinching score in the Grand Slam decider.

2) Caelan Doris

The youngest player on this list, Caelan Doris’ potential has been noted for many years and he well and truly made his mark in the Autumn Nation Series a year ago.

Tries in Dublin in victories over New Zealand and Argentina saw Doris crowned Player of the Series and cemented his place as one of the best No.8s in the game.

And he has backed up his status this year, impressing for Ireland in the Guinness Six Nations and starring for his country in a historic 2-1 Test series victory over New Zealand this summer.

The 24-year-old was also influential for Leinster in their run to the Champions Cup final earlier this year and is just as comfortable on the flank as he is at No.8.

Doris has played a significant part in Ireland’s rise to the top of the world rankings and he will be key for club and country over the coming months as Leinster look to regain the URC title.

3) Taulupe Faletau

Eleven years after making his Wales debut, Taulupe Faletau shows no signs of slowing down and remains a key asset in Wayne Pivac’s armoury.

In a hotly contested summer Test series against South Africa the 32-year-old starred for his nation, helping his side to a first ever away victory over the Springboks in the second match of the tour.

Domestically, Faletau faces a new challenge after moving to Cardiff ahead of the new campaign, and he’ll be fancied to once again make his mark in the URC after six seasons in the Premiership with Bath.

Faletau has been one of Bath’s best performers when fit in recent seasons, and he was back to his best in a Wales shirt in the 2022 Guinness Six Nations, reminding everyone of his immense all-round skillset, particularly with ball in hand.

4) Alex Dombrandt

Alex Dombrandt has consistently excelled for England since making his debut last summer and has proven himself one of the best No.8s across the continent for club and country ever since.

Earlier this year he scored his maiden international try in the Guinness Six Nations victory over Wales and established himself as England’s first choice at No.8.

While injury ruled him out of the summer tour to Australia, Dombrandt should doubtless hit the ground running as the domestic season returns.

The 25-year-old has proven invaluable for Harlequins recently, helping them win the Premiership title in 2021 and reach the play-offs once again earlier this year.

Amid strong competition from the likes of Billy Vunipola and Sam Simmonds, Dombrandt has become Eddie Jones’ top choice for the No.8 role and is rarely off his game.

5) Matt Fagerson

Having made his international debut four years ago, Matt Fagerson is now one of Scotland’s pre-eminent forwards and always someone that Gregor Townsend can rely on.

The 24-year-old played every minute of Scotland’s summer Test series against Argentina and remains a commanding presence on the pitch, both for his country and for Glasgow Warriors.

Still relatively under-the-radar compared to some of his teammates, Fagerson has taken big leaps forward over the past 12 months, and is a go-to carrier for Scotland, a player who can regularly break tackles despite not having the imposing physical presence of some No.8s.

Alongside Hamish Watson and Rory Darge, he forms part of a balanced Scottish back row, and will have a big role to play for Scotland in the coming months.

Honourable mentions

This list 12 months ago would have had Jack Conan close to, if not top of the list, and there is no reason why the Lions No.8 can’t force his way back into contention, albeit facing strong competition from Doris. Billy Vunipola enjoyed a fine tour of Australia and will push Dombrandt hard for the England starting role, while Italy’s Toa Halafihi enjoyed a strong first year on the Test scene. Of those who could break through, Zach Mercer will surely be there or thereabouts when he returns to England after a stellar first season in France for Montpellier, and don’t forget former World Rugby Junior Player of the Year Jordan Joseph, who has taken a leap for club side Pau and could be getting international recognition sooner rather than later.