Perhaps no other position or jersey is more coveted than the number 10 jersey, it bares with it a responsibility like no other.
The five-eighth, fly-half, first-five are all names for the team’s playmaker. They are the general that drives their team around the field, and they are the one who often makes the big decisions that make or break a team.
Giants of the game have made the jersey legendary, and the moments remembered at rugby World Cups are often remembered by who was or wasn’t donning the No.10.
Jonny Wilkinson’s clutch drop-kick to seal England’s 2003 World Cup triumph; Stephen Donald was on a fishing trip when he was called into the 2011 campaign which saw the All Blacks win it; and perhaps most significant of all, Joel Stransky slotting a 30 metre drop goal to seal the 1995 tournament, which saw the rainbow nation unite under Nelson Mandela.
Legacies have been made with greats like Grant Fox, Michael Lynagh, Dan Carter, Stephan Larkham, Andrew Mehrtens, Carlos Spencer, Felipe Contepomi donning the jersey and who have inspired the next generation to kick, run, pass and step like them.
Today, there are players of the same calibre running around and this World Cup will be their legacy as some move on from rugby and others are only at the beginning of their international carries.
Here are the top 10 playmakers at the 2023 World Cup.
1. Johnny Sexton – Ireland
Sexton is meticulous, he is an absolute control freak who never allows standards to drop.
The most regimented team has the most regimented 10 and Sexton’s importance for the men of the Emerald Isles is not matched by any other player apart from perhaps France’s Antione Dupont.
At 38 Sexton is one of the biggest brains in rugby and it is that which helped him orchestrate Ireland’s first ever series win against the All Blacks on New Zealand soil.
It’s like having a coach on the field. He is a robust 10 who is as brave as any other in defence. The cherry on top is that he is a safe-as-houses goal kicker.
2. Richie Mo’unga – New Zealand
No one ever thought that Dan Carter would be compared to another, but as we live and breathe Mo’unga has closed this gap.
The conversation in New Zealand at the start of the year was will it be Beauden Barrett or Mo’unga to play 10 for the All Blacks?
That question was answered very quickly with Mo’unga guiding an injury-ravaged Crusaders side to a sixth straight Super Rugby title.
Despite Damian McKenzie being the ignition for minor premiers, the Chiefs, he was still outplayed considerably in the final by Mo’unga.
Mo’unga is as regimented as he is elusive and whether he is running the ball or ordering his troops around, he is an elite player and can weather any storm. Also, he’s a great goal kicker.
3. Finn Russell – Scotland
If Sexton and Mo’unga are generals, then Russell is the 007 with a licence to be extraordinary.
His tag of being mercurial is probably exaggerated as his vision and ability to execute passes that other 10s dream of is unmatched.
Whether it is a 20m cut-out pass to seemingly no-one which turns into a clean-break or a ludicrous looking chip kick to himself which he re-gathers and scores, he has everyone on the edge of their seats.
He is not a physical specimen, but he has added a deadly offload game to his repertoire in recent years and it makes his backline enforcers of Australian-born Sione Tuipulotu and Huw Jones even more dangerous.
If Scotland are to go deep, Russell will have his fingerprints all over it.
4. Dan Biggar – Wales
Biggar and Sexton are cut from the same cloth, both are unable to relent control.
He is also probably one of the loudest playmakers in the game, whether it is giving his opposition a mouth full or barking orders at his own men, he won’t let standards slip.
The Welsh side is under siege and if there was a captain to steady a Welsh ship on rough seas it is Biggar.
Wales will play ‘Gatland-ball’ a name given to the boring, kick-heavy and monotonous style of rugby under head coach Warren Gatland, therefore, they need a precision kicker. Cue Biggar.
He is salt of the earth tough, and he is a guy that has been there to fill a void no other has been able to step-up to, so when the going gets tough, the tough gets going, and Biggar will get his hobbling side into the right parts of the field.
5. Owen Farrell – England
Even though Farrell hasn’t learnt how to tackle properly in his hundreds of professional games, he is a leader.
Farrell is the leader a wayward and directionless England need. He is tough, strong and as the captain can lift the standards of his whole side.
Farrell’s absence cannot be the sole reason that England had a historic loss to Fiji in their last World Cup warm-up match, but you can bet he would’ve lit a fire under his men to work their hardest to prevent such a historic defeat.
He also has great vision and is an adept kicker.
If England want to make it out of the pool someone will need to take up the mantel of Farrell in his absence and drive those standards.
6. Matthieu Jalibert – France
France’s chances of claiming a home World Cup took a blow when the prince of Stade Toulousain Romain Ntamack suffered a season ending ACL injury against Scotland.
Although he alone is not as pivotal as Sexton is to Ireland, he is nonetheless a key cog in Les Bleus’ success.
His connection with Dupont is the biggest loss because as a duo, the pair understand each other’s play on a level unrivalled by any other pairing in international rugby.
Jalibert’s mission is to be a deputy to Dupont and be the reflexive and flexible planet in Dupont’s orbit of genius level rugby.
Jalibert kicks well in general play and has a youthful confidence about his game.
The Bordeaux five-eighth has been knocking on Ntamack’s door and now he gets an opportunity to shine. Perhaps the opportunity will bring out the best in this young and developing general.
7. Manie Libbok – South Africa
Veteran playmakers have not been safe in 2023, either through injury or non-selection and Manie Libbok has been a young gun who has been thrust into the limelight at a time of his country’s need.
He is not a stranger to the big stage, having been one of the URC’s best, and claiming the title for the highest point scorer in the 2022/23 season.
However, as far as international experience goes, he is a novice (which is why he isn’t listed higher) but he has proved he’s robust and skilful enough for rugby’s biggest stage.
If he holds his nerve at the kicking tee, he should be able to guide his team to a quarter-final berth. After that, the margins may be so small that his inexperience shows.
8. Lima Sopoaga – Samoa
Samoa have struck the lottery with Sopoaga deciding to come out of international rugby hibernation and represent Samoa.
The 18 cap All Black is now 32 years old and along with 2019 World Cup Wallabies playmaker Christian Leali’ifano will be the touch of class to drive the extremely talented and skilful team around the park.
With Sopoaga at the helm, Samoa has made itself the World Cup’s darkest horse.
His impressive first shift for Samoa saw the Pacific Island nation go close to knocking over Ireland and showed he still has a great deal to offer world rugby.
9. Caleb Muntz – Fiji
Ben Volavola was another headline omission from this tournament, especially because he had been a stalwart for the Fijians in a time when playmaking stocks were thin.
However, head coach Simon Raiwalui has backed the young Drua pair of Muntz and Teti Tela.
Muntz looks more like an undersized inside centre than a 10, and the fact that he runs around and breaks tackles in heavy traffic at will, only strengthens this observation.
Having led Fiji to their first ever win over England at home also is a huge tick next to Muntz’s name, proving he doesn’t need a dominant side to do his job.
Despite his inexperience, there is an energy and eagerness to want to drive this Fiji side, which is infectious and with a few more international caps under his belt he should be able to be a good general.
10. Carter Gordon
Last but certainly not least is the Australian flying mullet, Carter Gordon.
The previous understudy to regular Wallaby Matt To’omua, Gordon has bided his time to explode onto the scene.
He is a bigger body than most other 10s in Australia and he has pace to burn.
Although he is more Tazzy devil than general now, a gung-ho attitude and hard-as-nails demeanour means he is ready for the trials and tribulations of test rugby.
He like Muntz needs time in the saddle to refine most aspects of his game, but his attitude and work ethic alone have helped put him in the driver’s seat for this World Cup.