The five most feared center pairings in Test rugby

Rugby World Cup: Split with Ioane, Ringrose and Jones Credit: Alamy

Rugby World Cup: Split with Ioane, Ringrose and Jones Credit: Alamy

With the Rugby World Cup looming, Planet Rugby will look at a team’s units to measure who has the advantage heading into the tournament.

The series continues with the heart of the backline and players having to complete a variety of tasks in their role; the centers.

5. New Zealand: David Havili/Jordie Barrett and Rieko Ioane

It remains to be seen whether Havili will return from injury and play at a high enough level for the final in France. However, both he and Barrett offer a 12-ball play option while also being comfortable putting the boot on the ball.

Havili almost always manages to make Richie Mo’unga look better within himself by sharing some aspects of the role and freeing the director. The centre-back is also an attacking midfielder himself and is certainly a threat with the ball in hand. Barrett is probably the more direct runner of the two and has a gun for a boot.

In any case, Rieko Ioane will undoubtedly be 13 years old. The star recently extended her stay in New Zealand until 2027, and deservedly so. He could be considered the deadliest and quickest outside center in the game at the moment and with 59 Test appearances at the age of 26, Ioane has much more to bring to the game. Make no mistake, he’s a deal breaker in every sense of the word and will only get better.

Strengths: Factor X, test threat and kicks out of hand

Weaknesses: Unsure of their best combination

4. South Africa: Damian de Allende and Lukhanyo Am

The Springbok duo have long been the first choice in green and gold, above all for the balance of the combination in relation to the team’s game plan.

De Allende’s ability to relentlessly carry the ball and almost always make yards provides a good platform for the Boks to set up their structures. He is a courageous player, always committed to defense. The ex Stormers and Munster man is a massive physical presence in the middle of the park and very reliable.

Outside De Allende is Am, who has become known for his silky touches, exceptional game awareness and astute defensive ability. The Shark is undoubtedly one of the most important Boks and his absence is always felt particularly in the defensive form. 13 is the hardest point to defend on a rugby pitch and requires an intelligent rugby mind and clear decision making to excel; all that Am has in droves.

Perhaps the pair could be higher up the list if given more chances through the plan and structure of the game, but rest assured that this core pair is very reliable in executing fundamentals.

Strengths: Physicality, reliability, defensive understanding

Weaknesses: Could be more dynamic, strong reliance on Am

3. Scotland: Sione Tupulotu and Huw Jones

Arguably the most popular centre-pair in world rugby at the moment, ‘Huwipulotu’ rose to prominence in this year’s Six Nations after the duo performed brilliantly to be named in the team of the tournament.

The most impressive aspect is the synergy between the two. They both have great qualities but the way the pair combine them is brilliant. Tuipulotu can be rugged and brutal with the ball in hand, but he can also throw the more skillful passes. He is a very, very intelligent rugby player and that is clearly evident on the pitch. He assisted his central partner in three of Jones’ four tries in the Six Nations.

Jones compliments Tuipulotu well through the sensational angles he runs in support and forward structure. The Glasgow man has always been good at picking his lines, but through partnering him he has been able to break through defenses more frequently and, in turn, is showcasing the run and try nature of he.

Adding to their arsenal is both players’ understanding of the inside and outside center roles. The duo can often be seen switching between positions in the game. The best part is that they will only get better as they both play for Glasgow Warriors.

Strengths: Synergy, line breaking capability

Weaknesses: Play better as a combination rather than relying on both individually

2. France: Jonathan Danty and Gael Fickou

Central duo Les Bleus are truly brilliant and have been very closely contending for the top spot in the standings thanks to their impressive attributes and poise.

Danty is a huge asset and is pretty much a flank wearing 12. With the ball in hand, he’s brutal and will ply on defense all day by running him over, running past the earnings line, and/or playing into one of his teammates. On the other side of the ball he is a busy defender and is very skilled on the ball, hence some comparisons on the flanks.

Alongside him is the wise and experienced Fickou, who is one of those players who never seems to make many notable mistakes. Like most outstanding 13s, the Frenchman is a master of defense and defensive forms. He is a key decision maker for France and also very reliable. With the ball in hand he is lethal if he turns to his running game, can distribute well and can even ignite some magic in his boot.

Ultimately the duo is right up there with the best in the world and it’s clear to see why. Ahead of a home World Cup, the French central pair are hoping to set fire to the biggest stage.

Strengths: Defensive ability, decision making ability

Weaknesses: Danty’s injury problems

1. Ireland: Robbie Henshaw and Garry Ringrose

The best center pairing in the world is rightfully that of the best team in the world and this year’s Grand Slam champions. Interestingly, the two are arguably the most well-rounded players at their respective locations in the world.

Henshaw struggled with injury earlier this year but is back and always looks brilliant when playing. He is a 12 ball player who can take it to the line or distribute to those around him. His support lines are solid and he’s in the kick-chase. A player who can play at 13 and one with an impressive rugby IQ.

Then there’s Ringrose, who was already world class but has transcended into a different sphere this season. The outside center is the most well-rounded star on the list with outstanding skills across the board. Going forward he is almost as lethal as Ioane, as defensively as good as Am or Fickou with a complete skill set to match. Ringrose has also grown as a leader, which has helped him take his game to another level. Simply put, the center is a coach’s dream.

Impressively Ireland showed their depth through Stuart McCloskey and Bundee Aki in particular.

Strengths: Beautiful balance, rugby IQ, complete skills, depth

Weaknesses: Henshaw’s wounds

Honorable mentions

England boast decent central stock, especially after Ollie Lawrence’s breakthrough during the Six Nations. It looks dangerous and very useful, there are also Manu Tuilagi and Henry Slade who are brilliant players. What remains is for manager Steve Borthwick to find his best combination.

Argentina also has solid centers in Jeronimo de la Fuente, Matias Moroni and Matias Orlando, all quality rugby players. All three will be instrumental in their World Cup tenure.

TO KNOW MORE: Deon Fourie: Springbok’s oldest rookie opens up about ‘really special’ moment and how he’s honing hooker skills for Rugby World Cup

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