Over the years, there have been certain players who sent the proverbial willies up us Kiwi fans. Players who caused a lump to develop in one’s throat at the mere sight of them.
Some are remembered for their destructive attacking play, some for their brutal defense, others because of their tactical nous. Players considered are from the 1970s through to today only as that is the scope of my experience.
Here are the 10 most feared players from an All Blacks fans’ perspective.
10. Gareth Edwards
Widely considered the greatest Welsh player of all time and held in the highest esteem by every Kiwi fan who watched him play. Dynamic, tough, brilliant passer and copy book tackler, no Kiwi felt safe when this guy was on the park.
9. Stephen Larkham
There was a period in the late 90s, early 2000s where this man tore us to shreds every time he touched the ball. Clever tactically, with his huge boot, and dropped a goal to send the Wallabies into the 1999 World Cup final. But it was his attack with ball in hand that scared us most. His flat pass or show and go caused many sleepless nights for us Kiwis.
8. Joost van der Westhuizen
The Springboks’ greatest-ever halfback and one of our greatest, most well-respected rivals. Intensity, and sheer will to win was written all over his face. Never took a backward step and wasn’t afraid to pull the trigger. His unique running style, ball in one hand always made us Kiwis squirm just a little. Defensively a beast, he brought a physicality to the number 9 jersey that had never been seen before. Boks had an unfair advantage with him on deck as they had 9 forwards.
7. Jonny Wilkinson
Dan Carter rated this guy the best No.10 of his era. That says it all. Although success against the ABs was rare for Wilkinson, you always felt like they were in the game when he was on the park. He had the most revered boot in rugby history.
6. Naas Botha
Reached godlike status in his homeland, but was equally revered by Kiwis. His tour out this way in 1981, gave us a glimpse of his unmatched flyhalf play. Had the kicking game that was the equal to Wilkinson, but his tactical nous was another level again. Glad that we didn’t see him that much as I am sure he would have caused a lot of broken hearts.
5. Victor Matfield
A giant of a man, menacing, uncompromising, brutal and yet clever, tactically sound and astute. Still the greatest lineout jumper to play the game.
4. Schalk Burger
This enormous lump of a man carried All Blacks on his back for fun and squashed them under foot every time he carried the ball. An absolute wrecking machine and rated by Richie McCaw and DC as the toughest opponent they have played against.
3. John Eales
The goal kicking lock revolutionized the way the game was played, leading the Wallabies to RWC glory in 99 and played an important part of the 91 winning team. He nailed us with his supreme line-out work then drove the nail in with his goal kicking.
2. The French teams of 93, 99, 03
The last international team to win a three-match series on NZ soil that 93 team were special. 99 and 2003 broke our hearts like nothing before or since.
1. George Gregan
No Brainer this one. Who will ever forget the tackle on Goldie or the phrase “4 more years”. A brilliant, brilliant player who caused us heartache after heartache.