100 greatest All Blacks ever: 30 to 21
Part eight of our ten part series looking at the greatest All Blacks of all time, ranked in order from 100 to 1…
30. Sir Wilson Whineray (1957-1965 – 77 matches)
Sir Terry McLean wrote of Whineray: “I would unhesitatingly acclaim him as New Zealand’s greatest captain.” Most would agree with this assessment even allowing for the fact that he has been followed by a number of other fine leaders.
A fine player and remarkably mobile and athletic in the open, Whineray almost always played at prop but he was also effective as a loose forward occasionally at No 8. In 1965 he won the Supreme Halberg Award, one of only three individual All Blacks to be so honoured.
29. Don Clarke (1956-1964 – 89 matches)
Don Clarke drove terror into the hearts of the opposition with his prodigious kicking. Having once kicked a 77m penalty against King Country in Te Kuiti, it was a regular occurrence for “The Boot” to kick penalties and drop goals from well inside his own half.
He was directly responsible for All Black victory in 16 of the 31 Test matches he played. When he retired from test rugby he had amassed a world record 207 points – more than double the total of the second placed Jean Prat of France with 90 points. In 1959 he won the Supreme Halberg Award, one of only three individual All Blacks to be so honoured.
28. Wayne Shelford (1985-1990 – 48 matches)
The most dominant No 8 in the country, he was an automatic choice for the World Cup. Shelford then led the All Blacks on one of their great periods of domination, going unbeaten from 1987 to 1990.
A competitive and skilful No 8, he led by example, whether driving over the advantage line from scrums or rucks, defending or standing up against real and imagined slights. His quickness to take the law into his own hands would have been harshly judged in rugby’s more recent years, but there was no question that he was one of the great forwards to play for New Zealand.
27. Dave Loveridge (1978-1985 – 54 matches)
Over a lengthy period between 1978 and 1985 Loveridge gave the All Blacks outstanding service but the undoubted highlight of his career came in the 1983 second Test against the British Lions at Athletic Park where he displayed every aspect of the halfback’s art, passing accurately, kicking effectively and running with judgement.
Even the most exacting judges declared Loveridge had produced one of the greatest displays of all time. But even without this sublime performance Loveridge had already done enough to be ranked among the greatest New Zealand has had in this position.
26. Sir Brian Lochore (1963-1971 – 68 matches)
Made his All Black debut at No. 8 on the 1963/64 tour to the United Kingdom. Not wanted for the All Blacks in 1964, he was recalled for the 1965 series against South Africa and, as one of the best No. 8s New Zealand has produced, became an All Black fixture until he retired from international play after the 1970 tour to South Africa.
One of New Zealand’s most successful captains, with just three losses. As a coach he was just as successful. Appointed a New Zealand selector in 1983 he became the national coach 1985-87 with his crowning achievement being the 1987 Rugby World Cup victory.
25. Billy Stead (1903-1908 – 42 matches)
One of the best to play in the first five-eighth position and also one of the sharpest early thinkers on the game. As such he had a deep influence long after he had stopped playing. Stead was vice captain of the celebrated 1905-06 Originals.
He was the chief strategist and tactical mainstay and was worshipped by all of his team-mates, especially those backs on his outside who scored the vast majority of the 243 tries on that tour. In later years Stead continued as a referee, coach, selector, administrator and columnist. He was the manager and coach of the All Black sides in the first two Tests against the touring 1921 Springboks.
24. Christian Cullen (1996-2002 – 60 matches)
Other fullbacks starting with Fergie McCormick in the late 1960s had brought an increasing attacking dimension to the All Black fullback role. But none showed quite the flair and attacking potency that Cullen demonstrated, especially in his early years. Making his All Black debut in 1996, aged only 20, he made an instant impact.
For the next few seasons Cullen was an automatic selection and while there may have been reservations about some of his unorthodox skills, where sometimes his positional play was astray, everyone agreed that he was a unique talent. Cullen’s ability as an astonishingly prolific tryscorer is reflected in the fact that in 60 All Black matches he scored 52 tries and scored in excess of 150 tries in all first-class rugby.
23. Grant Fox (1984-1993 – 78 matches)
One of the most potent scorers in rugby history. Fox’s incredible feats for Auckland through the 1984-86 seasons, in which his rate of scoring was phenomenal, meant his claims to be in the starting XV for the inaugural World Cup were irresistible.
Fox in that tournament proved to be one of the All Blacks’ main weapons. His rate of scoring was astronomical and soon he had accumulated several All Black Test records, eclipsing even the mighty Don Clarke. For all his exploits Fox was often the target for criticism. Certainly he was not a player of great flair and he was never a dashing runner.
Yet despite his lack of flamboyance, he was a highly effective Test player and it was significant that at all levels those on his outside were prolific scorers. In 78 matches for the All Blacks he scored 1067 points In first-class matches he scored a record 4112 points. He scored 932 points in Ranfurly Shield rugby, nearly three times more than anyone else.
22. Sir John Kirwan (1984-1994 – 96 matches)
From 1985 through to 1992, apart from when he was injured, Kirwan was pretty well an automatic All Black selection. At his peak, in the seasons between 1986 and 1988, Kirwan was magnificent and irresistible, exceeding in those years even his great Australian rival, David Campese.
In 1987 he was a star of the All Blacks’ World Cup, his length of the field run for a try against Italy being an enduring image from that tournament. His greatest year, certainly in terms of tryscoring, was in 1988 when in five Tests he scored 10 tries. If not quite so dominant thereafter, Kirwan remained a world-class player for the rest of his career and when he finished with rugby in 1994 his 96 All Black matches had brought him 67 tries as well as 199 tries in first-class rugby, which are both New Zealand records.
21. Zinzan Brooke (1987-1997 – 100 matches)
One of the most skilful forwards to have played for the All Blacks and one of the most versatile and durable. In 1987 he established his reputation as a player with the build of a forward but the skills and flair of a back. But It was only relatively late in his career that he became the regular first-choice No 8 after being played on occasions there or either of the flanker positions.
His 17 tries in tests were a world record for a forward. Many of his more than 150 tries in his first-class career came from pushover tries at the base of the dominant Auckland pack, but the nature of the tries don’t detract from the skill and competitiveness of one of the All Black giants of the 1990s.