I’m going to start this edition with a little disclaimer. This was without a doubt the hardest one to write.
I’m an Aussie and Wallabies fan through and through, but as you can tell by this series of articles, I’m a huge rugby fan.
Choosing five players from the greatest rugby nation on earth has proven very difficult. I’m angry at myself for leaving off players but I couldn’t change the rules for the All Blacks.
It must be so great being a Kiwi rugby fan as you just have the most incredible production line of players and coaches. These are my five favourites but who knows?! Tomorrow they could be different.
Dan Carter I feel so incredibly privileged and fortunate being able to watch this guy play regularly, both live and in person. From the moment Carter arrived on the scene at the Crusaders you knew he was going to be special. I’m not sure too many people would have been able to say how special but in my mind he is the greatest flyhalf that I have seen and possibly ever.
There are two things I think of with Carter. Number one is consistency. He never seemed to play poorly, just less good. If you think of performance as a scale, he’s always up near the top. His calmness, decision making and leadership was always top class.
The other thing I think of was, of course, the 2005 British and Irish Lions series in which Carter really announced himself to the world. Us Antipodeans knew how good he was already, but our northern brethren had never seen the performances like we were used to.
That all changed quickly. The second Test was the greatest performance by a flyhalf I have ever seen. Carter scored 33 points individually while the All Blacks scored the highest ever score put on the Lions, 48. Carter was an absolute joy to watch and him finally lifting the Web Ellis Trophy in 2015 was a reward befitting the champion he is.
Brodie Retallick Brodie Retallick’s mention on this list might surprise some people but to me he is a once-in-a-generationa talent. If you were building the perfect second rower, he would be the prototype.
Standing at six foot eight he has the height, measuring in over 124 kilos he has the brawn and you can definitely be sure he has the brain. Many people consider Colin Meads the greatest Kiwi second rower. Unfortunately, I never saw him play but Retallick is the best for mine.
He is a back (and a fabulous one at that) trapped in a forward’s body (an even better one at that!). Retallick exemplifies the skill level of Kiwi rugby, being able to pass both sides. Throw a dummy? Sure! Who can forget that try in the Bledisloe?
Retallick also loves to rile up the opposition and is never too far from a stink or from offering some friendly advice to opposition players. I feel as though I’m doing him an injustice though. Retallick does all of the things becoming of him and his position and at a ridiculous rate as well. To realise the importance he has to the All Blacks, just look up the win percentage of when he plays and when he doesn’t. He is a wonderful player and someone I love watching.
Aaron Smith Again, Smith’s inclusion might cause a few eyebrows to be raised in my direction but I genuinely think he is one of the top scrumhalves to play the game. There are many things I admire with Smith but the two that stand above the rest are his competitive nature and his decision making. Smith believes he can win every contest, in every game, every time. He is the sports cliche “they wanted it more” personified.
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Look no further than the recent Super Rugby Aotearoa and the way he has led the Highlanders on the pitch to be competitive every game and even stealing a few wins on the way (sorry, Chiefs fans). The excellent All or Nothing documentary gave some wonderful insights into the man and it’s strongly recommended you watch it, if you haven’t already.
Smith’s decision making is where he stands head and shoulders above the rest. He always seems to make the right one. He is the perfect link between the backs and the forwards and shows this on a regular basis during matches. Smith’s passing is exceptional on both sides as well as his kicking and vision. He is the finest NZ scrumhalf I’ve seen and second only to Joost van der Westhuizen of all time.
Richie McCaw Well, where do you start with Sir Richie? I could probably write nothing and everyone would agree with his inclusion on this list. Let’s have a go anyway!
Arguably the greatest All Black of all time, McCaw redefined the role of flanker in world rugby. You could tell that McCaw was something special when he first started part of that legendary Crusaders team. Seriously, how did anyone beat them?
McCaw went on to win world player of the year three times. He captained the All Blacks to consecutive World Cup wins. He won literally everything available to him. He is the most winnningest player and captain of all time.
The thing I loved about McCaw though was his humility. Sadly, during his playing career there was some absolute rubbish espoused from muckraking journalists about the way he played the game. McCaw never fell into the trap of replying, probably because he was too busy winning.
Anyone who understands the game knows how he played. Yes, he pushed the letter of the law but all outstanding players live on the edge. McCaw knew how to toe the line and never cross it. He had an enviable relationship with every referee and was an outstanding leader to boot. He was a fabulous player who is the sort of guy you’d love to have a beer and chat with.
Jonah Lomu Everyone relax, he was always going to be on the list.
Again, where do you start with Lomu? As a kid just starting to learn about rugby, Lomu was the first player I knew. Jonah transcended rugby like no one else, ever. Every team in every country has tried to emulate what Lomu provided but none have ever been able to do it like he did.
Lomu was rugby to me. There are so many highlights to mention with him but I will focus on two. The 1999 World Cup was the first one I watched intently, side by side with my father. It was a special time. During the match I have never seen dad so excited. Lomu scored two brilliant tries. One particularly memorable one was where it seemed like he beat the entire French team, their coaching staff and all of their fans in one scintillating run. It really has to be seen to be believed.
The other moment was sadly one I witnessed live. The 2000 Bledisloe game in Sydney is considered the greatest game of rugby ever played and I was fortunate enough to be there and sat among about 5000 All Blacks fans. I’m sure you know how the match played out and who scored the winning try. It was just so symptomatic of Lomu and New Zealand with Lomu scoring the winning try.
This was my favourite quote about Lomu in a match: “Rugby is a team game, all 14 of you give the ball to Jonah.” The All Blacks did and they won! Lomu was sadly taken from us too early and I am not ashamed to say I shed a tear the day he died but his legend will live on forever.