Inspired by Peter Darrow’s article about the best All Blacks since 1970, I thought it would be fun to put together a team comprising the best players I have seen
I hope that Roar readers, in the Christmas spirit, will respond with their own personal favourites. This is obviously personal and subjective, and I limited the list to players who I have had the privilege of watching over the many years that I have followed this wonderful game. So here it is – including contenders who narrowly missed out.
Contenders include Christian Cullen, Gavin Hastings, HO de Villiers, Gysie Pienaar, Serge Blanco, Chris Latham, Jason Robinson, Tom Kiernan, Andy Irvine and Percy Montgomery. But the best, from the incomparable 1974 British Lions team that went unbeaten in South Africa, was the brilliant, mercurial and yet utterly reliable JPR Williams.
Jan Engelbrecht, Gert Muller, JJ Williams, Grant Batty, Joe Roff, Syd Nomis, Gerrie Germishuys, Bryan Habana, John Kirwin, Jeff Wilson, Bryan Williams, Gerald Davies, Doug Howlett, Rupeni Caucaunibuca, Ray Mordt and David Campese all stand out. But the obvious first choice is Jonah Lomu. And on the other wing (although he normally also played 11 but he is too good to leave out) I would have Carel du Plessis, described by the great Bill McLaren as the prince of wings.
Tim Horan, Jason Little, David Duckham, Ma’a Nonu, Frank Bunce, Mannetjies Roux, Joggie Jansen, Glen Ella, Ian McGeechan, Tana Umaga, Brian Lima and Philippe Sella all stand out but my picks go to Danie Gerber and Brian O’Driscoll.
I’ve been privileged to watch so many greats. Mark Ella, Michael Lynagh, Piet Visagie, Barry John, Naas Botha, Phil Bennett, Henry Honiball, Grant Fox, Jonny Wilkinson, Stephen Larkham, Joel Stransky, Jean-Patrick Lescarboura, Andrew Mehrtens and the magnificent Dan Carter.
However, recognising that most of my choices are controversial – I told you this was subjective – for this pivotal position, I have made perhaps my most controversial choice: Hugo Porta. Absolutely imperious, he always seemed to have so much time. I watched him playing for a rebel South American side, behind a losing pack, almost single-handedly beat the Springboks in 1982, scoring 21 points.
I never saw Ken Catchpole but his reputation demands a mention here. Of those I saw, brilliant players include Dawie de Villiers, Sid Going, George Gregan, Joost van der Westhuizen, Aaron Smith, Nick Farr-Jones, Matt Dawson, Fourie du Preez and Terry Holmes. But the absolute standout has to be Gareth Edwards – remember his try for the 1973 Barbarians against the All Blacks? And, although it was obviously a great team effort, he was a major reason the 1974 Lions were unbeaten in South Africa.
Although small in stature, the South African Tommy Bedford was magnificent. Other players I remember as being outstanding include Mervyn Davies, Toutai Kefu, Brian Lochore, Kieran Read, Imanol Harinordoquy, Wayne Shelford, Lawrence Dallaglio, Duane Vermeulen and Morne du Plessis. But the most exciting number eight was Zinzan Brooke.
Jean-Pierre Rives, Jan Ellis, Michael Jones, Fergus Slattery, George Smith, François Pienaar and David Pocock were all outstanding. But here I’ve chosen perhaps not the best player in his position, but the greatest leader the game has known: Richie McCaw. He also gets my pick as captain.
Roger Uttley, Piet Greyling, Jerry Collins, Owen Finnegan, Schalk Burger, Ruben Kruger and Richard Hill come to mind but Ian Kirkpatrick stands out from the crowd.
This choice is easy and I’m not even going to mention other contenders – not even Willie John – because there are two who are simply head and shoulders above the rest: Colin Meads and Frik du Preez.
Tendai Mtawarira, Os du Randt, Richard Loe, Owen Franks, Mof Myburgh, Hannes Marais, Cian Healy, Jason Leonard, Syd Millar, Carl Hayman, Robert Paparemborde, Jannie du Plessis and Tony Woodcock were all individually great players but I’ve gone for a combination who were responsible for subduing a monster Springboks back in 1974: the British Lions’ ‘Mighty Mouse’ Ian McLauchlan and Fran Cotton.
Bobby Windsor, Gys Pitzer, John Smit, Uli Schmidt, Keven Mealamu, Bismarck du Plessis, Dane Coles, Agustin Creevy, John Trollope, Keith Wood, Phil Kearns, Brian Moore and Malcolm Marx were all superb but my vote goes to Sean Fitzpatrick.
Of course there are many great players who I have left off this list and I’m sure that my choices are worthy of criticism. But here is the team comprising the greatest players I have personally watched. Some may be out of position but they were too good to leave out.
15. JPR Williams
14. Carel du Plessis
13. Brian O’Driscoll
12. Danie Gerber
11. Jonah Lomu
10. Hugo Porta
9. Gareth Edwards
8. Zinzan Brooke
7. Richie McCaw (C)
6. Ian Kirkpatrick
5. Frik du Preez
4. Colin Meads
3. Ian McLauchlan
2. Sean Fitzpatrick
1. Fran Cotton