100 greatest All Blacks ever: 20 to 11
Part nine of our ten part series looking at the greatest All Blacks of all time, ranked in order from 100 to 1…
20. Billy Wallace (1903-1908 – 51 matches)
An early colossus of All Black rugby. He was in the side which played the first Test against Australia in 1903 and two years later he was a leading performer for the 1905-06 Originals. Wallace clearly was a gifted footballer capable of playing anywhere in the backline, which, except for halfback, he did.
But it is the statistics of Wallace’s career which have made him such an imposing figure. A goalkicker and because of his exceptional pace a prolific try scorer, Wallace was the first New Zealand rugby player to amass scoring records, and many of his records stood for decades. He scored 246 points for the Originals – a touring record which still stands and seems likely to last forever.
19. Sid Going (1967-1977 – 86 matches)
Sid Going ranks among the best halfbacks ever. Strong and stocky, he was a superb runner close to his forwards, with a flair for the unorthodox. Though sometimes criticised for the quality of his passing and backing himself over teammates, Going was nevertheless a gamebreaker supreme.
Rated by some as the equal of New Zealand’s greatest running half-back Jimmy Mill, he proved himself to be a match-winning individualist and at the same time a world class pivot capable of playing the type of game to suit the occasion.Remembered for gazelle-like leaps to take high kicks, his uncanny knack of scoring shock tries, his cavalier treatment of even the burliest of forwards and his constant quick-thinking and action.
18. Sean Fitzpatrick (1986-1997 – 128 matches)
By the time of his enforced retirement, Sean Fitzpatrick had established himself as one of the most significant All Blacks of all time. As a player Fitzpatrick, with his durability, competitiveness and his role in making the hooker a dynamic cross between a tight and loose forward, achieved greatness.
But he was also an inspiring leader and of the 128 matches he played for the All Blacks, 62 had been as captain from 1992. A World Cup winner in 1987, perhaps his finest achievements as a captain came in the 1996 season with a magnificent 43-6 hammering of the Wallabies at Athletic Park and a few weeks later a series win over the Springboks on South African soil.
17. Mark Nicholls (1921-1930 – 51 matches)
One of the most influential players of the 1920s (a golden era of All Black rugby), and a champion five-eighth and goalkicker. He is widely regarded as one of New Zealand’s best first five-eighths and has been chosen in many a mythical selection of the “best ever.” But Nicholls never played much of his major rugby as a first five, being more regularly placed at second five or even at centre.
With the team soon to be immortalised as the Invincibles, Nicholls became a backline mainstay and has been almost unanimously acclaimed as one of the most important players in what was a star studded team. Nicholls was the backline general, the master tactician, and the leading scorer. A British critic wrote of him on the Invincibles tour that he had shown “a conception of the New Zealand game that amounted to genius.”
16. Kel Tremain (1959-1968 – 86 matches)
Both as a player and then as an administrator, Kel Tremain made a towering contribution to New Zealand rugby. Though a tight-loose type of a backrow forward, he had an extraordinary ability to score tries. In 268 first-class matches he scored 136 tries, which was the record for a forward until passed by Zinzan Brooke in the 1990s. Tremain was part of the wonderful All Black pack which eclipsed the Springboks and Lions in 1965-66 and a leading contributor to the triumphant tours of Britain and France in 1963-64 and 1967.
For much of the 1960s, with Tremain as captain, Hawke’s Bay were consistently among New Zealand’s leading provincial sides. In 1966-69 there was a lengthy Ranfurly Shield reign. His place in New Zealand rugby has been recognised with the annual award for the outstanding player of the season named in his honour.
15. Kevin Skinner (1949-1956 – 63 matches)
Skinnner was the New Zealand heavyweight boxing champion in 1947. A skilled lineout No.2, expert rush stopper, strong scrummager and extremely mobile, he retired after the 1953-54 tour of the UK as one of the very best props New Zealand has produced.
He had equalled Maurice Brownlie’s all time record for All Black matches at 61. But in 1956 was brought out of retirement to “sort out” the touring Springbok front row in the final two tests of the series, though reports of the amount of rough play he was involved in have been greatly exaggerated.
14. Tiny White (1949-1956 – 55 matches)
One of the greatest All Black forwards of the 1950s and, while he may have been eclipsed a decade or so later by one of his test succesors, Sir Colin Meads, he ranks still as one of the best of all New Zealand locks. By modern standards he was not exceptionally huge, but he gave an illusion of an imposing physique for he had a craggy, wiry build derived from a considerable natural strength and developed from working the land as a Poverty Bay farmer.
Sir Terry McLean and all other critics of the time were unanimous that White was one of the greatest forwards in New Zealand rugby history. “… He played with matchless vigour, especially in the lineout,” wrote McLean, adding that, apart from a fault of trying too much on his own in the loose, he was “a wonderful player.”
13. Ron Jarden (1951-1956 – 37 matches)
The champion left wing was an automatic selection from 1951 to 1956. With his extraordinary pace and intelligence, Jarden was a lethal attacker and with considerable skills honed from his devotion to training and concentration on the fundamentals.
Jarden was strongly built, he had natural pace and to his speed he added a mastery of basic skills. He was a highly accurate thrower of the ball to lineouts and created many tries with his precise centreing kick. Any doubts as to Jarden’s right to be rated among the greats of All Black rugby are removed by the remarkable statistics of his career.
Even though he played in an era where conservative tactical approaches did not encourage sparkling back play, Jarden in 134 first-class matches scored 145 tries including 35 in 37 All Black matches. In the 1955 domestic season he scored 30 tries, still the record for a New Zealand first-class season. He retired from rugby aged just 26. In 1951 he won the Supreme Halberg Award, one of just three individual All Blacks to be so honoured.
12. Michael Jones (1987-1998 – 74 matches)
Few players have exuded so much charisma and mystique as Michael Jones, a supremely gifted athlete was almost invariably one of the first names written down in any All Black team sheet. A serious knee injury in 1989 effectively split Jones’ international career into two distinct parts. In his first period Jones played mainly as an openside flanker, and as such he helped redefine the position.
He had pace, athleticism, ball skills and a punishing tackle which quickly won him acclaim as one of the most gifted rugby players of all time. And despite being not much more than 1.85m he was able to out-jump taller forwards in the lineout. In the mid 1990s Jones made the switch to the more conservative, less flamboyant but more physical demands of becoming a blindside flanker.
With his strength, commitment and fierce close quarter tackling he was especially effective. He won many plaudits for his on-field deeds, even being acclaimed by some judges as the greatest rugby player of all time. That may have been arguable, but he certainly would be a candidate of any dream All Black XV.
11. Jimmy Hunter (1905-1908 – 36 matches)
Jimmy Hunter will always be a name that will live forever in New Zealand rugby. A gifted midfield back, Hunter had deceptive pace and agility. Described by a contemporary critic EDH Sewell as “one of the most sinuous runners” he had seen, Hunter was one of the stars of the 1905-06 Originals on their tour of Britain.
In 24 games in Britain for the All Blacks he scored 44 tries, which is a record that will never be defeated. Hunter was only 18 when he entered the Taranaki provincial team in 1898 as a halfback and at just 1.68m he was more the physique for this position.
But after playing on the wing and at fullback he soon found a niche in the midfield where he was an outstanding second five-eighth. He was captain of the All Blacks on a tour of Australia in 1907 and captain in the second Test, against the touring Lions in 1908. His record 48 All Black tries stood for the better part of 70 years.
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