With another season of big hits, epic tries and nail biting scrums fast approaching, the resident egg chasers here at Teams on Tour got thinking, “Just who are the greatest ever rugby players?”. It was a debate that divided opinions, questioned the very nature of our game and resulted in our fair share of Guinness as we attempted to separate the Johnny Wilkinson’s from the Billy Twelvetrees’. Finally, as the last foaming pint was poured, we came up big with our definitive list of the best ever players to grace a rugby pitch.
In no particular order…
It would be a crime against rugby to start this list without putting Jonah Lomu first and foremost. The hulking New Zealander catapulted the sport back into the public eye in the mid-90s with his powerful style lending itself perfectly to the excitement of a live rugby broadcast. Fast, brutal, inspirational, legendary, we’ll run out of adjectives before we can adequately describe just how big the impact Lomu had on the sport truly was.
It’s a clear indicator of success in rugby when you become recognisable even to non-fans. That’s what Martin Johnson achieved in his career, a fantastic player in his own right, it was his superb leadership qualities that propelled him to success. Eventually captaining England to victory in the 2003 Rugby World Cup before a 3-year managerial stint for the Red Roses from 2008-11. An easy choice for the greatest ever rugby players.
…Speaking of the 2003 Rugby World Cup, Johnny Wilkinson made the tournament his launching pad for rugby superstardom. Scoring the winning drop goal in the last minute of extra time to see England lifting the famous old trophy, Wilkinson was an overnight household name. And he only solidified his reputation when he led England to the final of the 2007 World Cup. A true legend and one of the greatest players ever to pull on the white jersey.
Surprise, surprise. Brian O’Driscoll is appearing on yet another of our ‘greatest ever’ lists. The legendary Irishman is, simply put, a phenomenon of the game. Playing at the highest level since he scored a magical hat trick against France way back in the year 2000, O’Driscoll earned a place on 4 Lions tours, over 100 caps for Ireland and his own trophy cabinet of accolades in his 18-year career. Taking his place in the Pantheon of true rugby greats.
When you think of the All Blacks in the modern era, Richie McCaw’s face is one of the first things that comes to mind. Throughout all of New Zealand’s biggest victories, McCaw’s leadership shone through and while the All Blacks are, to a man, phenomenal players, it was McCaw’s knowledge of the game and his sheer determination to win that made this beast of a team tick. The All Black’s management clearly saw this too, making McCaw the most capped player in both the team’s and rugby union history.
Although you can’t mention Richie McCaw without also uttering the name “Dan Carter” in the same breath. Undisputedly the greatest back of the professional era, Carter is the leading points scorer in international rugby history achieving a monumental 1,598 points from just 112 caps. “Dan the Man” was the complete player, a fearsome kicker, a lightning quick runner and could control the tempo of a match like nobody else.
Joost van der Westhuizen
Iconic. The example Joost van der Westhuizen set for professional rugby players worldwide is one that is still held up in training rooms today. On the field, the scrum-half was a truly dominant player and possessed some of the silkiest runs of the modern era, contributing to the monumental success of the title winning South Africa side of the 1995 world cup. While off the pitch, his fight with motor neurone disease in later life was just as inspiring, and though Westhuizen passed on earlier this year, his charity, the J9 Foundation, carry on the legacy that he began.