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100 greatest All Blacks ever: 100 to 91

Roar Guru
17th November, 2012
29
1920 Reads

“Tribute: Ranking the Greatest All Blacks of All Time” was the title of a book published in 2001, which undertook the arduous task of ranking the greatest ever All Blacks in order from 1 to 100.

The judging panel included the author Paul Verdon, Bob Luxford (curator of the New Zealand Rugby Museum), Bob Stuart (1953/54 All Black captain and New Zealand Rugby Union/IRB councillor) and New Zealand’s finest rugby writers/historians, Sir Terry McLean, Bob Howitt and Lindsay Knight.

Possibly only Ron Palenski is missing from a judging panel which would have to be the most knowledgeable and authoritative possible to assemble at the time and, as such, should be recognised as the definitive order of All Black greatness.

It also appears that a player’s contribution at provincial and Ranfurly Shield level was also a major contributing factor to their rankings.

More than a decade has passed since the rankings were published and with plenty of fine players having ‘kicked off’ and ‘blown no-side’ on their careers, I thought it would be time for an update.

The following rankings certainly take into account the 2001 list but will not be beholden to it. So without much further ado, the 100 greatest All Blacks of all time are…

100. George Smith (1897-1905 – 39 matches)
A brilliant three-quarter who scored 34 tries in 39 matches for New Zealand. His considerable ability in rugby was not his only claim to sporting fame – he was an outstanding track athlete, a superb sprinter and hurdler who, between 1898 and 1904, won 14 national titles, the 1902 British AAA quarter mile hurdles, and had an unofficial world record for that event at 58.5 seconds.

Smith was also one of rugby league’s pioneers in New Zealand and was vice-captain of the 1907-08 All Golds side on its tour of Britain. And if some historians can be believed, he was also the winning jockey when a horse called Impulse won the 1894 New Zealand Cup.

99. Ross Brown (1955-1962 – 25 matches)
One of the finest backs produced by Taranaki, his career came in two distinct stages.

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In the first, between 1955 and 1962, playing either first five-eighth or in the midfield at either centre or second five, he was a regular All Black selection. Yet then he was frequently criticised for being too much of a runner and not possessing a good enough kicking game.

Then from 1963 until he retired he was criticised, but this time for what was seen as excessive use of the boot. This undoubtedly stemmed from the leading role he had as the captain and first five in the Taranaki side which held the Ranfurly Shield between 1963-65.

Brown was a potent weapon for Taranaki with his suddenly found talent for dropped goals. He landed 10 alone in the 1964 season, including three in a shield defence against North Auckland.

98. Ma’a Nonu (2003-2012 – 73 matches)
Explosive, some would say flamboyant, Ma’a Nonu has built a reputation as one of the toughest marks in world rugby, able to break the line, off-load the ball and set up or score scintillating tries.

Though he played mostly in the No 13 jersey earlier in his career, Nonu is equally comfortable at second five-eighth, where his distribution, defensive and kicking skills have continued to improve.

A powerful runner, he has carved himself a niche as a huge impact player for the All Blacks.

97. Ian Clarke (1953-1964 – 83 matches)
In 1951, the New Zealand Rugby Almanac, which chose him as one of its five promising players of the year, commented, “He quickly developed into a top-class forward and no one lasted a game better than he.

“Strong, rugged, an expert in lineout scrummaging, he gave his lock the best protection I have ever seen in lineout play.”

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Described in the British Press as, “tireless and determined… he was often outweighed, but never outscrummed. He showed speed and flair with his low tackling a stand-out feature of his play. A splendid tourist.”

96. Jack Steel (1920-1925 – 38 matches)
The outstanding wing in New Zealand rugby in the early to mid 1920s and one of the greatest players to be produced by the tiny West Coast union, Steel was one of the All Blacks’ star performers in the drawn 1921 series against South Africa. His try in the first Test was one of the most spectacular, not only in that series but in any New Zealand match.

Steel scored 21 tries in 18 matches on the Invincibles tour. Described as, “thick set, curly haired and long striding whose knees rose and fell with the regularity of piston rods. Woe betide anyone who came into contact with those hips or knees.”

95. Charlie Saxton (1938 – seven matches)
Came to national prominence with a fine display against the 1937 Springboks, some of whom rated him the best halfback in New Zealand. National honours came in Australia in 1938, where he played in all three Test matches as part of a particularly strong All Black backline.

After distinguished service in World War II, in which he rose to the rank of Major in the 19th Armoured Regiment, Charlie Saxton captained the second NZEF ‘Kiwis’ team on their wonderfully successful 1945-46 tour of Britain and Europe.

Later a prominent coach/administrator. He wrote, in conjunction with the rugby union, The ABC of Rugby, a coaching book that stressed the three Ps – position, possession and pace.

Like many of his generation, a potentially great playing career was curtailed by military service.

94. Alan Whetton (1984-1991 – 65 matches)
A big man, whose physique and pace made him an ideal blindside flanker. Good early season form with a powerful Auckland side made him a certainty for the 1987 World Cup squad. His success in that tournament made him an automatic All Black selection for the next few seasons.

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With his speed, high work rate and consistent support play, Whetton had an outstanding World Cup and his performances entitle him to be ranked among the greatest of All Black blindside flankers.

He, Michael Jones at openside flank and Wayne Shelford at No 8 formed one of the best loose forward trios to ever appear for the All Blacks.

93. Cyril Brownlie (1924-1928 – 31 matches)
Like his more talented brother Maurice, Cyril in the old 2-3-2 scrum system was seen as a loose or side-row forward, but he was probably more the equivalent of a modern lock and a toiler in what has been called the game’s engine room.

For the times, he was an extremely big man at 1.90m and 95kgs. A mainstay of the great Hawke’s Bay sides which, as Ranfurly Shield holders, dominated New Zealand rugby from 1922-27.

A core member of the Invincibles forward pack of 1924/25. Gained infamy as the first ever player ‘ordered off’ in a Test match.

92. Chris Jack (2001-2007 – 68 matches)
Few All Black forwards have had the imposing physique of Chris Jack who, at 2.02m and 115kg, was one of the All Blacks’ first choice locks for an extended period between 2001 and 2007.

A major contributor to the successes of Canterbury at provincial level and to the Crusaders in Super Rugby, he had an especially outstanding season in 2001, when he appeared in the All Blacks for the first time, scoring a try on debut and winning the Kelvin Tremain Memorial Trophy as the player of the year.

91. Des Connor (1961-1964 – 15 matches)
Toured New Zealand with the Wallabies in 1958 as the Test halfback, and played so well he was chosen by the New Zealand Rugby Almanac as one of its ‘Five players of the Year.’

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He moved to Auckland in 1960 and became a key member, and vice-captain, of the formidable Auckland Ranfurly Shield holding team of that era.

He had a long fast pass, a big punt, ran strongly when breaking from the scrum, was a skilled tactician and later a shrewd coach. He was vice-captain in all his 12 Tests for New Zealand and ranks highly among All Black halfbacks.

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