Power Rankings: Our top five northern hemisphere wingers

A winger’s job in the modern game is not just about scoring tries, but it certainly helps.

A winger’s job in the modern game is not just about scoring tries, but it certainly helps.

The fastest men on the park have to be able to take advantage of the tiniest gaps and any space that presents itself to show off their poaching skills.

Increasingly though, they also have to be rock solid under the high ball, have a good tactical kicking game and an innate understanding of the game.

As the Autumn Nations Series approaches, we have picked out five of the very best in the northern hemisphere right now.

1. Damian Penaud (France)

It is hard to put anyone else top of the pile, such has been Damian Penaud’s purple patch over the past year. The France winger was their top try-scorer on the way to the Grand Slam in the spring, having scored three tries last autumn including the clincher against New Zealand.

He followed that up this summer with a starring role in the series victory in Japan, having scored two in the heavy defeat the 14-man Barbarians delivered to England at Twickenham, spending most of the second half playing as his side’s only centre.

That versatility comes from Penaud’s development in the No.13 jersey as a youngster and he has featured there for club side Clermont already this season, described as an alien who is impossible to defend by opposition coach Ugo Mola last weekend in a trip to Toulouse. Penaud is in the form of his life right now.

2. Darcy Graham (Scotland)

No player has been more impressive in the early rounds of the United Rugby Championship than Edinburgh’s Darcy Graham, who leads the way in practically every attacking category.

Graham makes up for his diminutive stature with the quickest feet in the game, and where the talent has always been evident, it feels like he has taken another step this season.

Built in the mould of a Shane Williams or a Cheslin Kolbe, the Scotland winger is electric when he gets his hands on the ball and has that ability to make a defender look silly with his step.

His combination with Duhan van der Merwe gives Gregor Townsend one of the more balanced wing pairings in the game, as well as two out-and-out try-scorers.

3. Louis Rees-Zammit (Wales)

There are few sights in world rugby that scare defenders more than Louis Rees-Zammit in full flight.

The Welshman is one of the very quickest in the game, with his outrageous agility allowing him to turn tacklers inside and out with ease.

The Gloucester winger already has eight international tries in 17 Tests for Wales, with a brace against South Africa this summer a stunning example of what the 21-year-old is all about as he twice showed the Springboks a clean pair of heels.

While there were times in his second season at the top level where Rees-Zammit struggled to replicate his stellar breakthrough campaign, he looks to have rediscovered the magic that made him one of the deadliest wingers in the game.

4. Jack Nowell (England)

Talking of players who have bounced back, Jack Nowell is doing what he does best once again after injuries looked to have taken a toll on his career.

A British & Irish Lion in 2017, the Chiefs winger has since had to deal with a succession of injuries that have made it tough to string games together.

But over the past six months, he looks to be back to the Nowell who first caught the eye, with a skillset that stands out from the majority of wingers. Acting almost like a ninth forward, there is a reason that Eddie Jones mentioned him when talking about his plan to use hybrid players.

But Nowell also knows how to finish, as he did twice on Friday night when Chiefs went to Bristol and put up a half-century at Ashton Gate.

5. Mack Hansen (Ireland)

Mack Hansen only made his Ireland debut during the 2022 Guinness Six Nations, but the 24-year-old has wasted no time in showing exactly what he’s about.

The Canberra-born speedster may have only dotted down once for Andy Farrell’s men, taking just six seconds to score after a restart in a 30-24 defeat to eventual champions France, but the Connacht man has shown plenty to be excited about.

Born Down Under to an Irish mother, Hansen is armed with a sophisticated rugby brain honed from time playing full-back and fly-half, as well as the pace and trickery needed to operate out wide.

The all-round skillset makes Hansen a natural in Farrell’s set-up and despite plenty of competition, it is hard to see how Ireland can be without him. It is no coincidence that the two Tests Ireland won this summer in New Zealand were the two he started.

Honourable mentions

There are so many great wingers that cutting it down to five was not easy.

France’s Gabin Villière would certainly have made the cut prior to the ankle injury he suffered at the end of last season that has led to him undergoing surgery.

In his absence, Alivereti Raka has been tearing it up for Clermont and has come back into the French reckoning.

In terms of out-and-out try-scorers, Josh Adams and Duhan van der Merwe are two of the very best, but the former has been struggling with injury and the latter is only just back playing after his move to Edinburgh. Although, considering how quickly he has got back to scoring on his old patch, it is only a matter of time before he shoots up these rankings.

Over in Ireland, both James Lowe and Robert Baloucoune have a strong case while the likes of Henry Arundell, Anthony Watson and Jonny May will all be hoping to earn a starting spot for England this autumn.

Last, but not least, Pierre Bruno has a chance to establish himself as one of Italy’s long-term options out wide this autumn.