Best Rugby Players of all time

There have been some incredible rugby players in the history of the game and it is incredibly difficult to rank these players. The list below takes a look at some of the very best rugby players in the history of the sport.

Johnny Wilkinson

There is certainly a case for Johnny Wilkinson to be the best rugby player of all time. Wilkinson made his Newcastle Falcons debut in 1997, originally starting as an inside centre. He was so talented as a youngster that Wilkinson made his debut for England at the age of 18, originally playing on the wing.

But Wilkinson moved to fly half when he returned to Newcastle before taking over as fly-half for England in the next couple of years. Wilkinson was incredibly successful in his first few years with England, winning the Six Nations in 2000 and 2001.

His crowning moment is of course the 2003 World Cup final. After 100 minutes of rugby,
Australia and England were still tied on points. But with the clock in the red, Wilkinson nailed the drop goal which gave England their only ever World Cup victory. It was a brilliant moment that earned Wilkinson to be awarded World Rugby Player of the Year in 2003.

Wilkinson retired from international duty in 2011, having played 97 times internationally. Wilkinson retired as the second leading scorer in the history of test rugby. He is certainly one of the best rugby players that England have ever seen as nobody has been able to take England to the World Cup title since.

Dan Carter

It seems only right to go from Johnny Wilkinson to Dan Carter as the two players were often compared due to playing the same position and their careers overlapping.

There is an incredibly strong case for Dan Carter to be the best player in the history of rugby. Having grown up playing rugby, Carter came through the ranks at Canterbury before quickly signing to the Crusaders. Carter made his international debut at the age of 21, scoring 20 points on debut.

Just two years after making his debut with New Zealand, Carter was voted the best player in the world in 2005, becoming the first New Zealander to win the award. It was mainly because Carter was brilliant in the wins over the British and Irish Lions, finishing one of the tests with 33 points.

Many thought that Carter would struggle to recover after tearing his groin tendon, causing him to miss the 2011 Rugby World Cup, which the All Blacks would win in his absence. But Carter returned with a vengeance and was the man of the match four years later when he scored the winning drop goal in the 2015 final.

Carter retired as the record points scorer in international rugby, a record that no one has really gotten close to since Carter retired. His accolades seem to never end. Carter won the World Cup twice, the Rugby Championship nine times and beat the British and Irish Lions in 2005.

Domestically, Carter won Super Rugby three times with the Crusaders as well as two Top 14 championships, one with Perpignan and one with Racing 92. Carter has a brilliant case for being the best rugby player of all time, but I think it has to go to one of his New Zealand and Crusaders teammates.

Richie McCaw

I think that when you look at a sustained period of rugby dominance, it is difficult not the call Richie McCaw the greatest rugby player of all time. McCaw realised he could play rugby at a very high level early on, having won the World Championship with the New Zealand u19 team.

Despite only playing seventeen times for his provincial side, McCaw made his international debut at the end of 2001 and was man of the match in his very first game for the All Blacks. The personal accolades followed in the 2000s with McCaw winning the World Rugby Player of the year title in 2006, 2009 and 2010.

But after that third award, McCaw still did not have a world cup title and did not make the final in 2003 or 2007. But 2011 changed all of that when McCaw captained the All Blacks to the World Cup title, repeating that feat four years later which would be his last game with the All Blacks.

Seven years after retiring, McCaw still holds some incredible records. He has a whopping 110 caps as captain of New Zealand which is number one all-time as well as being second all-time in caps, having recently been overtaken by Alun Wyn Jones. McCaw has the most wins in the history of test match rugby as well as two World Cup titles, ten Rugby
Championship titles and four Super Rugby titles.

Jonah Lomu

Jonah Lomu reinvented how rugby was played and his incredible combination of size and speed brought many fans to the game. Lomu was 6ft 5in and yet could still run faster than pretty much anyone in the world. This incredible physical ability lead Lomu to become a try-scoring machine for New Zealand.

43 tries in 73 appearances for New Zealand show his skill and Lomu created one of the most memorable moments in rugby history when he ran over Mike Catt in the 1995 World Cup Semi-Final to score the first of his four tries to take New Zealand to the World Cup final.

Sadly for Lomu, his performance started to decline as his health deteriorated, with Lomu being diagnosed with Nephrotic Syndrome in 1995. Sadly for the rugby world, Lomu passed away in 2015 at the age of just 40, stemming from a heart attack linked to his kidney disease.

His incredible fame meant that Lomu left a massive legacy behind after his death. He reinvented the winger position, with guys like Nemani Nadolo, Alesana Tuilagi and Josua Tuisova all becoming international superstars as physical wingers, something that just did not happen before Lomu’s career.

Lomu has lent his name to multiple video games as well, with Jonah Lomu Rugby being the leading rugby video game for many years. There has never been a player like Jonah Lomu and it seems unlikely that we will ever see a player like Lomu again.

Sean Fitzpatrick

I am sure it can’t be surprising for a lot of former All Blacks will be on this list as New Zealand have been the dominant team in the history of rugby. Sean Fitzpatrick is seen as one of the best players to come from New Zealand.

The Auckland born Hooker worked his way through the ranks of his local provincial side before making his debut with Auckland in 1986, the same year that he made his international debut however missed out on playing in the 1991 World Cup.

Thankfully for Fitzpatrick he was made the captain of the All Blacks in 1992 and it is a role that he held until his retirement in 1997. The start of his captaincy went well however it was dampened by losing the Bledisloe Cup to Australia. In 1993 they had a much bigger test with the British and Irish Lions touring New Zealand.

With the series tied at 1-1 Fitzpatrick was faced with the possibility of losing a series to the Lions as All Blakcs captained. Thankfully his side won the final game of the series despite being 10-0 down at one point.

Fitzpatrick was also the All Blacks captain in the 1995 World Cup with the All Blacks losing in the final. Despite this, Fitzpatrick is considered one of the best players in All Blacks history and one of the best rugby players of all time.

Brian O’Driscoll

Ireland have had some brilliant rugby players in the history of their country and Brian O’Driscoll is likely the best player the country has ever produced. Having been born in Dublin, O’Driscoll was born into a rugby family as his father played twice for Ireland and he had two other family members who were Ireland internationals.

Originally playing Gaelic football, O’Driscoll transferred to rugby in secondary school and began playing for the youth ranks of Irish rugby. He made his Leinster debut in 1999 and is the teams greatest ever player. Despite many offers throughout his career to move abroad, O’Driscoll retired a Leinster man and led the team to four Celtic League titles and three Heineken Cups.

The success continued with Ireland as O’Driscoll made his international debut in 1999. When O’Driscoll decided to retire in 2014 he did so as Irelands’ greatest ever player. He still holds the record for the most appearances for Ireland with 141 caps which is fifth all time in international rugby.

With Ireland O’Driscoll won the Six Nations twice including winning the Grand Slam in 2009. Individually he holds countless records and awards. O’Driscoll is the Six Nations all-time top try scorer and was Six Nations Player of the Year three times. He captained the British and Irish Lions in 2005 as well as touring with the team four times.

Three times nominated for World Rugby Player of the Year, O’Driscoll was incredibly unlucky to not win the award as he is one of the best players of all time.

David Campese

Australia are a storied Rugby country and have produced some greats who could feature on this list. David Campese has to be near the top of the list for greatest Australian rugby players of all time.

Making his international debut in 1983, Campese had a lot of success domestically as well. He was part of the Randwick team of the 1990s that won eight grand finals and featured a lot of future international coaches. Campese finished his career playing in Super Rugby with the Waratahs.

One of the best wingers/ fullbacks in the history of international rugby. Campese scored 63 tries for Australia in 101 games and was a key part of the 1991 World Cup winning team. Campese was the tournaments top try scorer and ended the competition being named “Player of the Tournament”.

The Australian is most well known for creating the goose-step to get around opponents and it is what created so many try scoring opportunities for the Aussie.

A World class back Campese is a legend in Australia and was inducted into the Sport Australia Hall of Fame in 1997 as well as being inducted into the IRB Hall of Fame. Not only was Campese an excellent rugby union player he also played 12 times for the Australian sevens team, winning a bronze medal at the 1998 Commonwealth Games.

Martin Johnson

Playing as a lock is often a position which does not bring much acclaim, however Martin Johnson gets his recognition as one of the best players in the history of the sport.

Born in Solihull, Johnson looked like an incredibly exciting prospect in rugby. So much so he was approached by former All Black to play for King Country in New Zealand. Johnson almost became an All-Black, playing three times for New Zealand U21s which almost robbed England of an international legend.

However, Johnson returned to England to play for Leicester Tigers and made his England debut in 1993 and it opened the door for Johnson to play for the British and Irish Lions later that year in their tour of New Zealand. Johnson was able to secure his position in England’s’ second row.

Johnson became an England regular and was made captain of the British and Irish Lions for their tour of South Africa in 1997 which was a very successful one, with the Lions winning the series 2-1. However his best international achievement came in his final England appearance.

Johnson was England captain for the 2003 World Cup which England won having defeated Australia in the final. Despite not being at the playing at his peak, Johnson was the vocal leader of the team and lifted the trophy when England won the final.

Not only was he successful internationally but Johnson was the captain of the Leicester Tigers team that won five Premiership titles and back to back Heineken Cups. After retiring, Johnson became the England head coach, taking them to the 2011 World Cup before resigning after the tournament.

Bryan Habana

Wingers are often the players who get a lot of credit as the try scorers and Bryan Habana is one of the best try scorers the sport has ever seen.

Born in Johannesburg, Habana was a educated at the same school as Springboks like Malcolm Marx and cricketers like Dane Vilas and Graeme Smith. Having made his debut with the Lions in 2003, Habana moved to the Bulls for 2005 and this is where he became an international superstar.

Habana was crucial in the Bulls Super Rugby titles of 2007 and 2009, scoring the winning try in 2007 before scoring a pair in the 2009 final. Habana moved to Toulon in 2013 and was part of a star studded team that won the Champions Cup in 2014 and 2015 as well as the Top 14 in 2014.

Internationally is where Habana really starred and the 2007 World Cup was his greatest achievement. At just 24 years old Habana scored eight tries in South Africa’s successful 2007 World Cup and was crucial in the Springboks World Cup title. Habana was named 2007 IRB Player of the Year for his contributions.

One of the best wingers in the history of rugby, Habana was pretty much impossible to stop when he was given space and it is why he scored 67 tries in 124 games for the Springboks.

Gareth Edwards

Described as the best Welsh rugby player of all time, Edwards would have been a modern day superstar if he had played today. Having almost played football at the age of 16, Edwards made his international rugby debut with Wales at the age of 19 against France.

As a scrum-half Edwards was a wonderful all round player who had all of the skills of a superstar. He was outstanding at running, kicking, passing and one of the smartest players to play the game. As an athlete, Edwards was one of the best we have ever seen and could easily glide past any player.

This was really shown when Edwards scored what many consider the greatest try of all time for the Barbarians in a famous victory against the All Blacks. Edwards had the pace to finish a phenomenal Barbarians move that many now consider the greatest try ever.
Not only was Edwards a Welsh legend, he is also a Cardiff legend. Edwards played 195 times for Cardiff and scored a whopping 426 times for Cardiff. With the Welsh side, Edwards is one of the few players to have won three Grand Slams with his country which is an achievement incredibly rare for Welsh players.

Edwards was a true superstar and when you talk to people who watched him play, some look at Edwards at the greatest rugby player of all time. He was truly ahead of his time and certainly one of the best rugby players of all time.

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