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Opinion

All Black everything: My favourite All Blacks of the professional era

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10th March, 2021
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Picking a top ten list of the greatest All Blacks ever is like choosing your favourite child: hard to do, but you probably could if you really had to.

This list doesn’t cover the ‘greatest’ All Blacks, but simply who my favourite All Blacks of all time are and why. Your list will be completely different, most likely, but hey, what’s life without good quality debate?

Share your thoughts with me in the comments below.

Honourable mentions
TJ Perenara
The try against Namibia said it all: “Are you not entertained?!”

Ardie Savea
Leg drive, aggression and will – a complete beast.

Ma’a Nonu
Started off slow but transformed his game into the complete number 12.

Brodie Retallick
Lurch is simply one of the best locks to ever play the game.

Tana Umaga
A legend of the game and one of the great blokes to grace the rugby field.

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Now for the top ten.

10. Caleb Clarke
I know, I know, he’s only played five Tests and scored one try. Not exactly setting the world on fire statistics-wise, but watch him play a whole game and tell me you aren’t salivating at his potential.

He has the size, the pace and the enthusiasm to become one of the greats of the game and I simply get excited every time he touches the ball. His debut against Australia was one for the ages, brushing off the Aussie players like he was playing against children.

There isn’t a more interesting and exciting player to watch in world rugby at the moment and I feel incredibly lucky to be at the age where I can watch his whole career from start to finish.

He has big shoes to fill: the left wing position – as evidenced by those who have come before – is a fickle mistress, but he has the tools to make it his own for the next five to ten years.

I wish him all the best and look forward to him climbing up my favourites rankings as he continues to dominate.

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Caleb Clarke fends off two Wallabies players

Caleb Clarke (Photo by Anthony Au-Yeung/Getty Images)

9. Joe Rokocoko
The Rocket Man exploded onto the scene, scoring 25 tries in his first 20 Tests and looked like he was going to break every try-scoring record in existence. He was quick, he was strong and had a dynamic sidestep, all of the qualities required for the perfect winger.

Unfortunately for him, left wing is a position that New Zealand seems to churn out a new star at every year. After 68 Tests for the All Blacks and 46 tries, he was replaced by Sitiveni Sivivatu and simply couldn’t make it back in.

Exciting and electric, he was a joy to watch and formed part of one of the great backlines in All Black history alongside Dan Carter, Conrad Smith and Ma’a Nonu. It would have been great to see him break more try-scoring records, but alas, it wasn’t to be.

8. Richie McCaw
I don’t think you can make a list of All Black anything and not include the man who I consider to be the greatest rugby player of all time. He constantly flirted with the letter of the law, winning so many penalties that it became comical.

The man had a way with the refs and irritated other fans from around the world to no end. If he played for any other country, I’d probably call him the biggest cheat in world rugby, but he didn’t, so he’s a saint.

A fearless leader of men, and a big reason as to why the All Blacks jersey is held in such high esteem. He was humble, hard working and epitomised what it means to be a Kiwi.

Long live Sir Richie!

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7. Dane Coles
A hooker on your list of favourite players, you say? Not just a hooker, but a hooger/wingker (work in progress). Hard not to like a man who has the body of a hard working forward and the agility of a fleet-footed winger.

Coles quickly rose up my favourite player ranks when I saw him take on anyone and everyone. The little rake loves the niggle, the chirp and throwing a few handbags and honestly, I just love to watch it.

He cherrypicks on the wing, scores from the back of the maul and defends his teammates as if he’s their personal bodyguard. Concussions have slowed him down a bit as the years continue but he still gives his all for the black jersey each and every game.

6. Jonah Lomu
What more can you say about the man who captured the hearts of rugby fans all over the world and took the game to a global level unseen before he surfaced? Just a unit, plain and simple.

Every time the ball made its way out to Lomu’s wing, it was edge-of-your-seat, spine-tingling stuff. You knew something was going to happen, whether it was a bump, a stiff arm or simply a little in-out that left the defender clutching at air.

The man could be as light as a ballerina or as rough as a cement mixer. Again, someone who was a bit past it by the time I came to the rugby scene but highlights and YouTube have preserved his memory for those of us who cannot believe that a man that big could be that fast, as well.

If only his body didn’t betray him, we could have been looking at the greatest rugby player and athlete who ever lived.

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)

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5. Jerry Collins
How could you not love him? I was infatuated with watching a ball -arrier run at the big fella, not realising that he was about to be put in the torture chamber. I genuinely think he was the reason Justin Marshall created the term Boomfa!

If there is a more feared defender in World Rugby when on form, I’m yet to find him. His hit on Colin Charvis was incredible (I was actually in the stadium for this one and joined in with the crowd as made that ‘ooo… ughh… oooff’ sound that one does when something goes from bad to worse).

Put simply, Jerry Collins was a bad man. And for that reason, I bloody loved him.

4. Dan Carter
What is there to say about DC that hasn’t been said already? Nothing, so I’ll just repeat the past.

Just a gorgeous specimen of a bloke, he put Jockey undies on the crotches of all young teenage New Zealand boys in the late 2000s. His dismantling of the Lions still remains one of the greatest games ever played and his clutch ability to step up when it mattered most means he will go down as one of, if not the, greatest 10 to ever play the game.

A three-time world player of the year and two-time World Cup champion, his resume is hard to match. Just a joy to watch play.

3. Christian Cullen
While I was a young whipper snapper when Cullen began to make his mark on the game, I still remember waking up early for cheese toasties on a Sunday morning when we played in South Africa and yelling at the TV with excitement every time he touched the ball.

Fluid, silky and smooth are all adjectives that my dad and his friends would use every time they talked about the Paekakariki Express. The man was a dynamic fullback, capable of winning games on his own.

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It was a huge shame we never got to see him unleashed on the 2003 World Cup, thanks in part to John Mitchell’s fragile ego.

On his day, he would and should make any all-time starting 15. I just wish I got to see more of him.

2. Beauden Barrett
Even though he defected to the enemy in the north, the previous Hurricanes superstar is an absolute highlight machine waiting to happen. A small man in a big man’s sport, his pace, footwork and decision making are what separates him from the rest.

Beauden Barrett

Beauden Barrett makes the pass to set up the final try during the Rugby World Cup 2019 quarter-final (Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images)

Able to accelerate at a moment’s notice, there is nothing more exciting than seeing Beaudy hit a gap from first five and know magic was about to happen. The king of the chip and chase, he is a star in two positions and probably could have played all across the backline.

While maybe never reaching the heights of the DCs of the world, he still has won two world player of the year awards and a World Cup, cementing his status as one of the greats of the game.

1. Conrad Smith
The man, the myth, the legend.

Who would have thought a floppy-haired, accountant-looking, skinny bloke would go on to become one of the most-capped centres of all time and the greatest facilitator and organiser in the midfield of the last 30 years?

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Listed as 95 kilograms, looking at him you’d be hard pressed to believe he was more than 75 kegs dripping wet. If my memory serves me correctly, the man never missed a tackle and made three to four try assists a game.

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The wingers who played with him should be buying him beers for the rest of his life, as he made their job so much easier.

It’s clear to see: Conrad Smith is my port in a stormy sea. One viewing was all it took for me to fall in love.

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