"I genuinely think he's one of the best I've ever played with" - Rory Best 11 months ago

"I genuinely think he's one of the best I've ever played with" - Rory Best

2021 may be the year the record is set straight.

76 Test match appearances for Wales. One (as a sub) for the British & Irish Lions. It is one of those odd anomalies when you look at the rugby career of Justin Tipuric.

Ask most of the modern pros playing northern hemisphere rugby to give you a top five of guys currently operating and the surname 'Tipuric' will feature in a teetering stack. The Ospreys and Wales flanker is as tough as they come but has a skill-set to rival even the most talented of backs.

Tipuric has a background in Sevens rugby that led to him bringing mobility and an attacking mindset to the Welsh back-row. He narrowly missed out on the 2011World Cup but featured in two games of Wales' 2012 Six Nations Grand Slam triumph and has scarcely eased off since.

Now aged 30, Tipuric has made two Lions squads but, as much as Warren Gatland rates him and his teammates rave about him, his Test Series involvements have been limited to a sole replacements appearance in 2013.

Ospreys, Wales and Lions flanker Justin Tipuric. (Credit: Sportsfile)

During an appearance on House of Rugby UK, earlier this season, Rory Best and James Haskell marvelled over Tipuric and joked about what he must have done wrong not to have more Test outings with the Lions.


"I genuinely think he's one of the best I've ever played with," Best declared. "Him and 'The Hask', obviously. What a back row that'd be!"

"We wondered whether he did something to one of Gats' relatives or something," Haskell remarked, "because of the fact that he didn't get more game-time. We asked him, 'What have you done, mate?!'

"Sam Warburton is a fantastic player but any other team, he would have started. All-round skill-set, engine on him, ability over the ball and just, overall how good he was."

Rory Best, Justin Tipuric, Conor Murray, Toby Faletau and Alex Cuthbert back from a surf on Lions duty in 2013. (Credit: Sportsfile)

"Even during the Lions Tour," Best recalled, "we had a move off a the top of a short lineout. The ball went to him and he was chipping it over the top. Like a duck to water. The only problem was, we couldn't win a lineout because Hask was wearing boots on his hands!"

The comments of Best and Haskell, who were both in the Lions squad that travelled to New Zealand - and shared the Test Series - in 2017 mirror what fellow Lions Robbie Henshaw and Iain Henderson told us after returning from that tour.

HENSHAW: Justin Tipuric, from me playing with him, was definitely up there. He was very unlucky not to get a Test start.

HENDERSON: I think he is an incredible player and unfortunate not to get any Test match time. I think he was class... I thought he was good player beforehand but being on the Lions and playing with him, I thought he really stood out for me, really impressed by him. He’s extremely skillful, he doesn’t look like a lineout forward but he’s very good in the lineout. He’s quite light, easy to get up and has really good hands. All round he’s just a really good footballer.

Tipuric was a starter in the Wales back row that reached the World Cup semi-final in 2019 and scored three tries in the 2020 Guinness Six Nations before the Covid-19 pandemic forced a long break in the season.

He will only be 31 when the Lions Tour to South Africa comes around and his ability to cover jerseys 6, 7 and 8 make him a favourite to travel with Gatland's squad. Maybe 2021 will be the tour that sees Gatland trust him for big starts in the big games.