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Who are the greatest All Blacks since 1970?

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16th December, 2019
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You know you are a true rugby fan when you have photos of your favourite All Blacks plastered over your bedroom wall.

At the age of 10 I followed the All Blacks on their 1970 tour of South Africa. This is my earliest memory of rugby and it kickstarted a life-long love of the game, which captures the heart and soul of most New Zealanders.

I kept photos, news clippings, anything that informed me of what was going on over in South Africa. I do not remember radio or television coverage of the tour, the only image I recall is that of Bryan Williams the All Black winger sidestepping the opposition in the in-goal area on the way to scoring a try!

There have been many tours, home series, World Cups since 1970 and it has motivated me to discuss the best players that are truly memorable.

All the great players in their autobiographies list their favourite team which not everyone agrees with but finds interesting. Although I didn’t reach the same lofty heights, I am inspired to list the players who captured my attention and who I still watch on YouTube.

Do you select players from when they were at the peak of their powers or do you go on what they achieved over their entire career? There are some players whose flames only burnt brightly over one to two seasons while others had much longer careers.

I have decided to base this on when they were at their sensational best and the memories are of their gifted talents.

Early memories are of players such as Fergie McCormack and Laurie Mains, dependable but hardly earth-shattering!

The 1972 tour to the UK unveiled Joe Karam as a reliable goal kicker. John Gallagher was the first real counter-attacking fullback for the All Blacks and was a member of the 1987 World Cup-winning team. Mils Muliaina, Israel Dagg and Ben Smith continued the trend of attacking fullbacks.


But to me, there is only one player who can take the title of best All Black fullback and that is, drum roll please, Christian Cullen! At his peak, he was the most electrifying player to make fans gasp at what he could do.

A difficult choice with a variety of candidates from the tiny Grant Batty to the juggernaut Jonah Lomu. John Kirwan, Jeff Wilson, Stu Wilson are all highly-credentialed players.

The player who captured my attention from a young age and who had the most devastating sidestep was the star of the All Black tour to South Africa in 1970, Bryan Williams.

He never quite reached the same heights again but was magnificent to watch.

The other winger is, of course, the incomparable Jonah Lomu!

Rugby World Cup, England v New Zealand, Jonah Lomu of New Zealand heads towards the try line

Jonah Lomu scoring yet another 1995 Rugby World Cup try. (Photo by Mark Leech/Offside/Getty Images)

Early memories are of the silky skills of Bruce Robertson and the brute strength of Frank Bunce. The other two contenders are Joe Stanley and Conrad Smith. This is a tough one, Conrad Smith is probably the favourite but the player who stands out in my memory is Bruce Robertson.

Second Five-Eighth (Inside centre)
Being a Northland boy my first memories are of Joe Morgan who eventually made it into the All Blacks in 1976. Walter Little is a strong candidate in a position that is more of a link man for the All Blacks. But my choice goes to someone who wasn’t a typical player in the role, Ma’a Nonu.


New Zealand’s centre Ma’a Nonu. (AFP PHOTO)

First five-eighth (Flyhalf)
Grant Fox was a standout from my earlier years with his metronomic goal kicking. He was pressured for his position by Frano Botica a more attacking player. Andrew Mehrtens and Carlos Spencer also had a great rivalry and would be welcomed by most other teams.

But the nod goes to Daniel Carter who was the most complete player ever in the role.

Apologies to all the other contenders including Dave Loveridge, Aaron Smith and Graeme Bachop but being a Northlander there can only be one halfback and he is the inimitable Sidney Milton Going, otherwise known as “Super Sid”!

Number 8
Alex Wylie and Brian Lochore from the early years were memorable. Zinzan Brooke and Wayne Shelford were two uncompromising players who make it another tough choice.

For all-round skills and creativity, Brooke gets the nod.

Openside Flanker
Richie McCaw. Sorry to the others! The only major contender being the Iceman, Michael Jones.

New Zealand's Richie McCaw walks past Australia's David Pocock

Richie McCaw and David Pocock went head-to-head plenty of times (AP Photo/Rick Rycroft)


Blindside flanker
Ian Kirkpatrick was an early favourite especially after his magnificent try against the Lions in 1971. Michael Jones who moved from the openside pushes hard, as do Jerome Keino and Jerry Collins.

I would be happy with either Jones or Kirkpatrick but Kirky gets the spot!

Peter (Pole) Whiting and Andy Haden are early contenders. Colin Meads is a legend in New Zealand rugby and must be one of the locks. Gary Whetton gets some votes as does Ian Jones. But it is a case of the old and the new with Pinetree Meads and Brodie Retallick.

The murky depths of the propping world are not one I am familiar with, but Kent Lambert was an early memory. Olo Brown, Carl Hayman and Tony Woodcock are the main contenders and I will trust he experts and say Olo Brown and Tony Woodcock.

Well, it’s a shootout between Sean Fitzpatrick and Dane Coles, both very mobile hookers with a sniff for the try line. Both tough, uncompromising players.

Coles is probably more skilful but for his slightly more intimidating presence give it to Fitzy.

So there you have it, my favourite All Black players from 1970 to the present.

Christian Cullen
Bryan Williams
Jonah Lomu
Bruce Robertson
Ma’a Nonu
Dan Carter
Sid Going
Zinzan Brooke
Ian Kirkpatrick
Richie McCaw
Colin Meads
Brodie Retallick
Olo Brown
Sean Fitzpatrick
Tony Woodcock


Captain: Richie McCaw.