The final of a ten part series, ranking the greatest All Black of all time, in order from 100 to 1…
10. Ian Kirkpatrick (1967-1977 – 113 matches)
In 1967, Kirkpatrick was plucked from relative obscurity by Fred Allen for the All Black side to tour Britain and France. Only 21, but already playing with skill and maturity, he was given his Test debut in preference to the great Kel Tremain.
At that time the specialist role of a blindside flanker was not as defined as it has become but Kirkpatrick and Tremain were the forerunners of the way the position has evolved. In 1968 against Australia in Sydney, Kirkpatrick came from the bench to score a hat-trick of tries. From then on, Kirkpatrick remained an automatic Test selection until 1977.
He scored 50 tries for the All Blacks, the most by a forward and fourth on the all-time list. He scored 115 tries in 289 first-class matches, becoming one of the few forwards to reach the century. His 16 Test tries broke a New Zealand record which had stood for 60 years.
9. Bruce Robertson (1972-1981 – 102 matches)
Rugby has had few midfield backs as elegant and as gifted as the tall, lithely built Bruce Robertson who, through most of the 1970s and into the early 1980s, was pretty much an automatic All Black selection.
There was a small minority who perceived some sort of defensive weaknesses in his game. They were not apparent to most other judges, who felt that the fact Robertson was not a punishing tackler was more than offset by his superb sense of positional play and his exceptional attacking ability and skills.
As a centre Robertson was much loved by his wings and the likes of Bryan Williams, Grant Batty, Stu Wilson and Bernie Fraser were all unanimous in their praise of his impeccable service, judgement and selflessness. The number of tries these wings scored at All Black level owed much to Robertson. But he also managed 34 himself.
8. Bob Scott (1946-1954 – 52 matches)
One of the very best All Black fullbacks. In post-war series Scott’s goal kicking (except in 1949 versus South Africa) and general play were of the highest standard. He announced his retirement from representative rugby at the end of the 1951 season.
Aged 32, he was persuaded to make himself available for the 1953-54 All Black tour to Britain. He played in the five Test matches with his general play still of the highest standard, and was carried shoulder high from Cardiff Arms after his performance against the Barbarians.
Winston McCarthy wrote, “For me there will never by anyone as great as Scott.” Legendary Springbok No. 8 Hennie Muller described him as, “Altogether, the greatest footballer I’ve ever played against in any position.”
7. Daniel Carter (2003-2012 – 93 matches)
Daniel Carter has become a true superstar of the rugby world. He is now recognised as one of the best first five-eighths in rugby history. He possesses a dynamic array of physical and mental skills, including great speed, deceptive strength and a dangerous side-step.
Carter is a reliable goal-kicker, an astute tactician and a calm backline general. He is the current All Blacks and world record holder for points scoring, with 1381 points including 29 tries.
6. Ken Gray (1963-1969 – 50 matches)
In any debate over mythical champion All Black teams of all time, there always seems to be agreement that one of the propping positions in the pack goes as of right to Ken Gray.
Gray was one of the most naturally strong men to have ever played for the All Blacks. At 1.88m, he was a little long in the back for some scrummaging purists. But his strength more than compensated for any technical deficiencies. To his strength Gray added considerable rugby ability and skills, mobility in broken play and a commanding lineout presence, especially as a jumper towards the front.
Besides physical strength, the deeply intelligent Gray was also morally strong. He found the South African policy of apartheid distasteful and indefensible and for that reason declined to make the 1970 tour of South Africa with the All Blacks. His first class career ended after the 1969 season but even those who did not agree with his anti-sporting contacts stance never disputed his qualities as a player.
5. George Nepia (1924-1930 – 46 matches)
The Invincibles played 30 matches in Europe and won the lot. And at fullback in every one of those games was Nepia, then aged only 19.
Nepia had a sturdy physique and, for his era, was big for a back. He could kick powerfully, defend fiercely, was a master of the smother and crash tackles and was fearless retrieving the ball from the feet of onrushing forwards. Goalkicking was probably the only area of his game which was not in the ultimate class.
The awe with which Nepia was held was reflected in an eloquent tribute from a leading British journalist, “When I hear others debating who will play fullback for the Kingdom of Heaven versus the rest, I turn to stone. It is not for me a question of whether Nepia was the best fullback in history. It is a question of which of the others is fit to lace up his Cotton Oxford boots.” He played his last match for New Zealand, aged 25.
4. Bert Cooke (1924-1930 – 44 matches)
“The most brilliant back in the All Black team. As swift as a hare; as elusive as a shadow; strikes like lightning, flashes with brilliancy, Cooke is the shining star of the side. He is meteoric in method; penetrates like a bayonet-point, and thrusts like steel. Cooke is Eclipse!”
In his first-class career, Cooke scored 121 tries in 131 matches, including 39 in 44 matches for New Zealand. His blistering acceleration, immaculate handling, accurate punting and ability to recover a short kick ahead, as well as his remarkable capacity to turn the slightest vestige of a chance into a try made his name a household word during his career.
Although slightly built for a midfield back, at 1.75m and 61kg, his tackling was described as ferocious – “Neither the largest man nor the fastest can hope to run with his knees jammed together” he once said of his impeccable technique.
3. Maurice Brownlie (1922-1928 – 61 matches)
A legendary figure in New Zealand rugby for any number of reasons. He was not only a great All Black forward and a successful Test captain but also the inspiration behind one of the best provincial sides ever fielded. There have been few players able or willing to turn on the sheer consistency of performance throughout such a long career as Brownlie.
The great coach Norman Mckenzie wrote: “He was great in every aspect of forward play. He could handle the ball like a back, he could take the ball in a lineout and burst clear, he could stimulate movements and greatest of all, he had the ability to lead his forwards out of a corner, yard by yard, along the touchline. I have seen no-one to equal Brownlie. His outstanding qualities were strength and resolution. He was in every aspect a remarkable man and one of the finest specimens of manhood I have ever seen.”
2. Sir Colin Meads (1957-1971 – 133 matches)
For nearly 14 years in All Black rugby Meads, firstly as a siderow forward but more constantly as a lock, was a towering presence, one of the best and most inspiring players New Zealand rugby has known in any position.
Throughout the 1960s, a golden era in All Black rugby, Meads became the personification of the New Zealand style of the game. He was rugged and uncompromising and as the All Black prototype he quickly became a genuine folk hero. Meads was no bigger than many of his contemporaries at about 1.92m and around 100kg , but he always gave the impression of being a giant and he complemented his natural athleticism with a rare ferocity.
Of the 361 first-class matches in which Meads played from 1955 to 1973, 133 were for the All Blacks – both still records.
1. Richie McCaw (2001-2012 – 115 matches)