Fly Half is seen by many in the rugby world as the most important position on the pitch. Nicknamed the ‘pivot’, the number 10 acts as a link between the backs and forwards and often makes headlines as the primary kicker on the team, both in open play and for goal. Many of the games all-time greats played with the number 10 on their back and many of the current best players in the world do too, many of them in the premiership. With the 2020/21 season wrapped up and the 2021/22 season on the horizon i thought it would be fun to rank every Premiership club’s starting number 10 to see who comes top of the pile. The way i am ranking this is with a heavy dose of recency bias. Meaning players who performed well last season have a major advantage and players such as Owen Farrell, who spent last season in the Championship have a major disadvantage. Look at it as a fair 50-50 split when analysing a player between last seasons form and the players all round ability having equal significance.
- Marcus Smith (Harlequins)
No contest here. Smith was the undisputed best 10 in last seasons Premiership. The Harlequin had his best season to date, scoring 286 points, the most of any player in the league and 98 more than 2nd place MacGinty. Add to that he scored the most tries of any 10 with 8 and scored the most kicks at goal of any 10 with 104 on an 82% success rate. Visually he is the complete package, oustide of his fancy stepping and speculative passing he is the perfect modern 10 in the way he brings the ball to the line and puts players into space. His kicking game in open play has gone to a new level this year and his pace and ability to beat any defender gives him consistent assists and tries. Smith belongs on the big stage and he proved that this year by leading Quins to a huge semi final win over league-leaders Bristol and followed that up by beating Chiefs in the final a week later. An underdog story and a coming of age story rolled into one, Smith crowned his season with a deserved place in the Premiership team of the season.
2. Dan Biggar (Northampton Saints)
There is a reason Biggar is starting for the Lions this summer. The Welshman could be accused in the past of not translating his Wales form into Premiership form however, this doesn’t resonate this season. Despite only playing 7 games due to Wales commitments and injury he was immense in pretty much all of them. He is one of the best in the world in controlling a game and is in elite in pretty much every area, including distribution, open play kicking, goalkicking, defence and under the high ball. He also suits Northampton very well, he has a nice understanding with Mitchell and feeds off the momentum he gets from their powerful forward pack. Outside of the East Midlands Biggar is consistently one of, if not the, best fly half in the Six Nations every year and matches up to any international 10 in the world.
3. AJ MacGinty (Sale Sharks)
Possibly a controversial one. However, towards the latter stages of last season’s Premiership, no one was in better form than AJ MacGinty and if he can recreate that same form when he returns from his knee injury in September, he will be deserving of this ranking. The American was Sale’s best player last season and drove them to a 3rd place finish by encapsulating the definition of an all round player with elite distribution and kicking game and relentless defending. He scored the second most points of any player with 188 and was one of the most efficient goalkickers with an 82% success rate. MacGinty dominated nearly every matchup he faced at the end of last season and turned a lot of heads, who knows what could have happened if he was fit for the Exeter semi final….
4. Owen Farrell (Saracens)
A slightly harsh ranking for the England fly half who was a victim of Sarries salary saga and spent the 2020/21 season in the Championship. We all know what Farrell can do on his day and he may show that in this summers Lions tour. However, at the moment he remains an enigma as we haven’t seen him at his best for over 12 months due to his relatively poor Six Nations for his standards. He will more than likely regain his form in next years Premiership, however, for now, he sits in 4th.
5. George Ford (Leicester Tigers)
The other current England fly half, George Ford, who was a victim of Tigers’ poor form in the 2019/20 season, didn’t have a much better season this time round. Having only played 9 games he struggled to find form outside of one outstanding game vs Ulster in the Challenge Cup semi final. However we know Ford is world class, this is a guy who wore a 10 shirt in a World Cup Final after an immense tournament and who has driven the England team from 10 for over 6 years now. He is one of the best in the world at controlling the game and building an attack and is a top tier goalkicker, achieving the 4th best efficiency of any kicker this last season with an 84% success rate. Tigers could finish anywhere between 4th and 8th in the 2021/22 season and a lot of that comes down to whether Ford regains his form.
6. Callum Sheedy (Bristol Bears)
Sheedy has been one of the best 10s in the Premiership for about 3 years now and he recently had this form recognised with a deserved callup to the Wales squad where he had a successful Six Nations campaign. He perfectly suits the Bristol style of play which favours free-flowing, attacking rugby and playing through 10 which gives Sheedy a lot of ball to show what he can do. He is great at using the wide channels through long passes or cross-field kicks but is equally adept at making breaks the middle. This ability to play both fast and slow is so valuable in modern Premiership rugby and is why Sheedy is so highly rated. One area he needs to improve is goalkicking with just a 74% conversion rate last season.
7. Joe Simmonds (Exeter Chiefs)
One of the most underrated players in the league, i would have put good money on Simmonds getting an England callup this summer, however, Eddie Jones had other ideas. He has been pivotal in Exeter’s recent success as someone who can play slow for 79 minutes and focus solely on distribution and then make a line break and score out of nowhere. However, after being one of the best 10s in the league in the 2019/20 season, appearing on the player of the season shortlist, Simmonds didn’t recreate this form in the 2020/21 season, hence why he has slipped down this ranking. One area this can be seen is goalkicking, in 2020 Simmonds’ goalkicking was his strongest point and in the 90% success range, this season his success rate slipped down to 75%.
8. Paddy Jackson (London Irish)
Another highly underrated player. Jackson was one of Irish’s best players in a season where they started strong and were 6th after 18 rounds. In a team of players pulled together from around the world in the last couple of seasons Jackson is effective in holding the team together and makes good decisions in attack. Furthermore, Irish play off 10 more than nearly every other team in the league which shows the trust they have in Jackson and his significant role in the team. He is also a fantastic tactical kicker and is one of the best in the game at finding space with kicks.
9. Jacob Umaga (Wasps)
Umaga has the potential to be top 5 on this list and often shows glimpses which prove it. However last season wasn’t his best in yellow and black and he struggled, especially in the first half of the season. However, Umaga still got 15 try assists and his goalkicking significantly improved, rising to 80% from 60% last season. The recent England debutant plays with no fear and is never afraid to roll the dice with a miracle offload, dummy or chip kick, however, it is safe to say that his game is far more well rounded than last season, despite him making less headlines. I wouldn’t be surprised to see Umaga ascend these rankings in the coming seasons.
10. Adam Hastings (Gloucester)
This is a very harsh ranking for a 23-time capped Scottish international who suffers purely because he is yet to play in the Premiership or for Gloucester. I have no doubt he will be a star for the cherry and whites, however, he has his work cut out for him after Gloucester’s 11th place finish last season.
11. Danny Cipriani (Bath)
A similar situation to Hastings, there is no questioning Cipriani’s unfiltered talent however his arrival will surely completely change the way Bath play who have lost two of their biggest leaders this summer in Mercer and Priestland. At the age of 33, Cipriani is facing an uphill battle to recreate his Sale, Wasps and Gloucester form with Orlando Bailey breathing down his neck.
12. Brett Connon (Newcastle Falcons)
2020/21 was a successful first Premiership season for Connon who led Newcastle to a solid 10th place finish. However, with all due respect, he doesn’t have the talent or reputation of the players above him on this ranking. At least not yet
13. Fin Smith (Worcester Warriors)
It remains to be seen whether Smith starts over Billy Searle for Worcester but the 19 year old had a strong end to the 2020/21 season with a good string of performances. Furthermore, he had a very good u20s Six Nations campaign, starting 5 of England’s 6 games in their Grand Slam win. Smith has great potential and a great future but his 6 total career appearances don’t get him above 13th in this ranking.
Written and compiled by Ben Nurse (@BenNurse8)