World Rugby Top 5 Players Series: Hookers - Ruck (2024)

The all important technician in between the two scrummaging pillars, having a world-class hooker in a squad can be a definitive game changer when it comes to the set-piece. With the ability to turn the momentum of a drive with one backwards hook of the ball, scrums are often won and lost in the jostle for possession between the number two jerseys.

The line-out is another key area where having an on-the-mark hooker is crucial. The front rower needs to have a snipers accuracy from the touchline, to pick out the receiving jumper, with pace and precision. Throughout rugby history, there have been some truly memorable hookers, who embodied the old-school grit, and ruthless spirit of the amateur and early professional eras.

The battles between Australia’s Phil Kearns and New Zealand’s Sean Fitzpatrick is the stuff of hooker legend, with ‘Pitbull’ Brian Moore personifying what it meant to play in England’s terrifying front row back in the early ’90s. All Blacks front rower Dane Coles revolutionised what it took to be the ‘modern day hooker’, with a never-relenting engine backing up a motoring top speed around the park. Coles is entering the twilight of his career, and is set to retire following the 2023 Rugby World Cup, in way for a new generation of All Blacks hookers to take centre stage.

So, for this series of our picks for the top five players of each position, here are the five best hookers that are playing today.

1. Malcolm Marx – South Africa and Kubota Spears

The first of two South African hookers to appear on this top five, Malcolm Marx is arguably leading the conversation regarding who is the number one ‘number two’ in the world today. An astute scrummager, who combines his raw power with an engineer’s understanding of his pack’s fine-tuned mechanisms, there are few better than Marx to win the ball, when the referee calls “crouch, bind, set.” With 64 test match caps under his belt for the Springboks, Marx frequently featured amongst Rassie Erasamus’ fabled ‘bomb squad’ in recent years.

Marx made off-the-bench appearances in all but one of the Springbok’s triumphant 2019 Rugby World Cup campaign, with his explosive talents then best utilised in the second half. Marx would be brought on when his tiring opponents had run out of steam to diffuse his threat, and more often than not return successful results. Marx’s time amongst the ‘bomb squad’ has since started to fizzle out, following the appointment of Jacques Nienaber as South African Head Coach.

Nienaber has preferred to play Marx from the get-go, and rotated the hooker between the starting XV and replacements, in the two latest Rugby Championship competitions. Regardless of whether Marx starts or finishes a match for the ‘Boks, he is a reliable and dangerous threat at both the set-piece and around the park. The Kubota Spears man knows how to make the hard yards, and force his way over the opposition’s try-line. He is looking in fine form ahead of the 2023 Rugby World Cup, with tries against the All Blacks and Wales, in the Springbok’s two Summer warm-up games.

2. Julian Montoya – Argentina and Leicester Tigers

England Head Coach Steve Borthwick would have certainly briefed his players, on the threat that his former Leicester Tigers star Julian Montoya brought to the Rugby World Cup opener. The Argentine hooker is amongst the most well-versed talents, when it comes to adapting to his team. Montoya thrives in both the regimented set-piece orientated Leicester Tigers side, and the high-octane unpredictability of Los Pumas.

A revered opponent and cherished teammate, Montoya proudly wears the armband for Argentina, and sets an example with an unmatched work rate around the park. With unexpected athleticism for a front rower, Montoya adds an explosive first step when he carries into contact. Even if the Tigers man fails to break the gain-line, he leaves a mark on the opposition tackler, who will wake up the following morning remembering their collision with the Pumas hooker.

The hooker was an integral part of the Tigers foundation, that toppled Saracens to win the 2022 Gallagher Premiership. Montoya also has a taste for the try-line, as he scored 10 tries for Leicester last season, in 17 appearances across the Premiership and Champions Cup. Montoya’s try-scoring efforts continued throughout the latest Rugby Championship, as he added a momentum turning score in the win against Australia. A hooker of the highest calibre and frequently featuring in a Premiership ‘Team of the Week’, Montoya brings the best out of his opponents, whenever he runs out for club or country.

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World Rugby Top 5 Players Series: Hookers - Ruck (2024)
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