Who belongs on rugby union’s Mount Rushmore? This is a concept I’m borrowing from an NFL show.
Mount Rushmore National Memorial is of course the sculpture carved into the granite face of Mount Rushmore containing four of the most influential American presidents in George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, Thomas Jefferson, and Theodore Roosevelt.
The concept of selecting a sporting Mount Rushmore is more than simply selecting who you think are the four best players of all time – these have to be recognizable faces. They have to be faces you associate with the sport.
If you know nothing about the sport, then you may at least know who the sport’s most famous faces are.
But they should also immediately be regarded as the best players from their country. For example, you would never select David Beckham on your Mount Rushmore just because he’s married to Posh Spice. He would have to be the calibre player of Lionel Messi or Cristiano Ronaldo.
For example, someone recently asked Kobe Bryant who the basketball Mount Rushmore would be. He said Michael Jordan, Kareem Abdul-Jabaar, Magic Johnson and Larry Bird.
These players are perhaps more well-known, than say, Bill Russell, who won 11 NBA Championships.
In the NFL, Joe Montana and Tom Brady are probably the two best quarterbacks of all time. But they’re not the recognizable face that Johnny Unitas is.
Unitas is the Babe Ruth of American football, for all time! Hence, he should be considered more worthy to be on the NFL Mount Rushmore
My NFL Mount Rushmore is Jim Brown, Johnny Unitas, Lawrence Taylor and Jerry Rice, with Mean Joe Greene just missing out on the top four.
My football Mount Rushmore is: Pele, Diego Maradonna, Johan Cruyff, and Franz Beckenbauer.
Here are my four selections for rugby union’s Mount Rushmore.
I regard Richie McCaw as the greatest New Zealand rugby player of all time. But I don’t think his face is as synonymous with New Zealand rugby as much a ‘Pinetree’s’ is.
There’s something about Meads’ sour face and tough manner that belongs on rugby union’s Mount Rushmore.
Moreover, the stories of his toughness are more legendary than anything McCaw has done. Everybody knows the story of Meads breaking his arm and remarkable, “well… at least we won the bloody game” comment.
Rugby’s Mount Rushmore needs characters and recognizable faces, as well as all-round player players. There’s not much separating McCaw’s and Meads’ legacies.
Frik du Preez
This is the hardest selection I made. Frik du Preez was accorded a rare honour when he was named the Springbok of the 20th century.
When you consider that for all the amateur era of rugby union, South Africa had almost a rarified awe about themselves comparable to the All Blacks, for du Preez to be accorded this honour must place him as one of the five greatest rugby players of all time.
But is his face recognizable to people outside of South Africa? Does the rest of the rugby world hold du Preez in the same awe as the South Africans do? Well, the New Zealanders do, but they’re more knowledgeable than most when it comes to all things rugby.
I selected du Preez because of my respect for the greatness that South Africa had in the amateur era, the high regard South Africans and New Zealanders have for him, and based on the stories of his freakish athletic talent which was amazing for a second rower.
Gareth Edwards is widely regarded in the Northern Hemisphere as the greatest rugby player of all time.
He’s the easiest face to select on this Mount Rushmore. His face is synonymous with rugby.
He was a legend of Welsh rugby during their golden 70s. And more than that, he toured with the two most famous Lions sides of al time – 1971 and 1975.
I have no doubts about Gareth Edwards making this short list.
I think people in the United Kingdom know and recognise Campo better than Wallabies such as Col Windon, Ken Catchopole, Mark Ella and even John Eales.
As Campo is the most recognizable Wallaby great of all-time, he makes this list.
David Campese has the advantage of being especially linked to Australia’s success at the World Cup in 1991.
Whereas the 1991 Wallabies relied heavily on David Campese, the 1999 World Cup Wallabies were perhaps a more balanced side. As such, I don’t think anybody stood out quite as much as David Campese.
Of course, Tim Horan performed well in that semi-final against South Africa. But Nick Farr-Jones said it, without Campo Australia would not have won the World Cup.
There is one special name who I have to mention, who maybe should be on rugby’s Mount Rushmore, but I haven’t included him.
Jonah Lomu is the most recognisable face in all of rugby union history.
Moreover, like David Campese, Lomu is associated with World Cups. Lomu is fortunate to have played his best during his short peak during the World Cups of 1995 and 1999. His four tries against England may be the most famous rugby performance of all time.
Why didn’t I select him? First of all, he had a brief peak. That’s a harsh criticism, because he suffered from a kidney disease. His best years were 1995 and 1999.
Secondly, as great as he was, would he make my all-time All Blacks XV ahead of Ron Jarden, John Kirwan, Jeff Wilson, or Doug Howlett? Maybe, but if he’s not a lock to be in the best All Black side ever, should he be on the Mount Rushmore of rugby?
Thirdly, I think that David Campese is the greatest winger of all time. And we can’t have two wingers on Mount Rushmore, can we?
Jonny Wilkinson is comparable in terms of recognition to some of my Mount Rushmore greats – maybe more so than someone like du Preez. But I couldn’t select him for the same reason I couldn’t select David Beckham for a football Mount Rushmore.
Martin Johnson is the other English person I considered. His face is well-known and associated with the World Cup. He’s England’s greatest ever player. But I don’t know if he’s a mythical second rower in the realm of Meads and du Preez.
From Wales I really only considered JPR Williams. But even Welshmen will admit that Serge Blanco was better.
Blanco and Sella were the two Frenchmen who stood out. Blanco very nearly made my list. Campo’s advantage over Blanco is the World Cup.
Anyway, who do you think should be on rugby union’s Mount Rushmore?