We are compiling a list of the greatest athletes from the sport of rugby union, which will then be voted on and the winner placed on the shortlist of the all time greatest athlete ever (all sports).
The first stage is to get nominations for rugby union before the vote is started. See the current list below of top athletes, compiled using other published lists and visitor feedback. If you believe that there is someone missing from this list, please place a comment below, including any relevant details about the person.
Rugby Union Greatest Players
The athletes below are listed in no particular order - once the shortlist is complete then you will be able to vote for who you think is the greatest of all. This list is not complete - if you know of someone who should be listed here, let us know using the comment form below.
|Richie McCaw||New Zealand|
|Dan Carter||New Zealand|
|Chris Jack||New Zealand|
|Colin Meads||New Zealand|
|Danie Gerber||South Africa|
|Jonah Lomu||New Zealand|
|Michael Jones||New Zealand|
|Zinzan Brooke||New Zealand|
- Will Carling's 50 top rugby players
- More about rugby union
- All time greatest index of sports
- Other sport specific lists
- More about the World of Sport
Commenting is closed on this page, though you can read some previous comments below which may answer some of your questions.
- Tough call with such a great selection. That said, my vote is for Dan Carter. If there is a position in rugby that is the most important then itā s fly half especially if heā s such a prolific kicker as DC. Apparently he was also a decent football player. (Richard, Nov 2020)
- O'Driscoll for sure No. 1 - had to do it against better opposition most of the time - Not a problem for kiwi greats. Don't forget Ieuan Evans (had to spell check first name !). What a truly class player playing on what was a poor welsh team by their standards. (Fred, 2013)
- Worldwary Fred (2014)
Eh!? O'Driscoll is the best...but the opposition was better?! How the hell does that work...I mean aside from the obvious flaw that BOD clearly isn't even close to the best. -But if we say it's so - for arguments sake - (sorry Rugby Gods) then it's still some pretty emerald tinted magical pixie logic you've got going on there. Am I the best Chef because Gordon Ramsey cooks better than me?...that's just ace! Thanks alot buddy, that makes life a breeze.
- Fred worldwary (2014)
Yes it's possible for one individual to be great playing on a non top team the implication being that we're he in a kiwi team he'd have scored 3 times more tries. THATS HOW IT WORKS.
I won't even comment on your Gordon Ramsey observation
- Worldwary Fred (2014)
Well I can't beat that argument....that must mean I just won the argument then?! I love this logic of yours...it makes life so simple when you're better than people by not being better than them...,I never knew just how awesome I was till I 'Irish'd' up my take on life! ...I must say I'm at a total loss as to how you arrive at the idea "he would have scored 3x as many tries if he played for New Zealand"...but I've just started my Jedi training in your ways...there is much to learn.
- Timbo worldwary (2014)
Wordlwary.... he is saying that BOD was the greatest playing a team often dominated by their opposition. Just like Sergio Paresse is a true great in a rubbish team. If Sergio had been an All Black your hero McCaw would have lost his place many years ago. I do agree with you though ... BOD is nowhere near no.1 (Jonah Lomu) ... I would put BOD somewhere around 30 well below the likes of Joost, Gareth, Barry John, Cullen, Gibbs, JPR, etc. etc
- MGBL (2017)
Where is Barry John on the list. He could do things others only dream about. A great in any era. And don't you think that some of the past greats would be just as fit as players of today if they played as professionals?
- Gavin (2016)
Best all time overall player, based on his personal stats, leadership, results is without any doubt, McCaw. Most skillful player to date is Carter - at his sublime best absolutely untouchable. Most impactful player for global Rugby is Lomu - he is the most well known and admired player that has ever existed.
- Gavin (2016)
This conversation is almost redundant but for the sake of passing time on an NZ sunny day - its only raining every 10 minutes or so, I would ask where is Colin Pinetree Meads, already named the best player of the 20th century by the NZRFU. He was the star performer of the All Blacks during their unbeaten stretch during the mid-60s and was the spiration for all following generations of loose forwards. But this list is totally ludicrous - it has so many great players missing, and I'm sorry but 'BOD' only looks outstanding because he was surrounded by mediocrity - to that extent he stood out but compared to generation of southern hemisphere mid field backs he was, is, ordinary.
- Amanda Nemaric (2016)
Edwards and McCaw. The most skilled was Wilkinson. Larkam tackled Wilkinson in the world championship final late, and gave away the penalty which WIlkinson scored from. Larkam should for that reason alone never have made the list.
- Timbo (2014)
It is simple: if you showed a highlight reel of the best ever rugby players to an alien (or an American) and asked who is the most impressive by a country mile there is only one "greatest player" and that is Jonah Lomu.
- To have any credibility as a list of top players it must have number 1 as Ritchie Mccaw. Then it's on the right track. But when you see Campese in a top 50 list that's where it all gos horribly wrong, yes he could score try's but he couldn't tackle a stationary player. He had more missed tackles in some games than he scored test tries that's why he can't be in the list because that cancels him out. It's difficult to have a top 10. Realistically only players in the professional error can make the list. The reasons are clear, game has changed dramatically, rules are a lot different, also as much as people like to look back at some great players and say how great they were in today's game they wouldn't make the reserves. Sorry. Today these players are primed elite athletes, not the farmer having a run on the weekend. Make no mistake there were great players then but not elite athletes of today's calibre the game now would be twice as fast as it was 30 years ago or more. The guys much stronger and more physically fit. If you were to name a top 20 you would have atleast 10 All blacks, player stats speak for themselves and there is no doubt about this. Australia would have a couple in my top 20, South Africa a few but unfortunately in a true list I would struggle to put a northern hemisphere player in my top 10 but might get a couple in my top 20. Team and individual stats speak for themselves here. No northern hemisphere team has made much of a mark in the top 3 over many years. The only exception was england and the majority of there wins came off the boot as they struggled to score trys. Fact. Here are a few names besides the obvious number 1. Brad thorn, josh Kronfeld, Cristian Cullen, Ali Williams, Andrew murtens, dan carter, George gregan, Nathan sharp, victor matfield (Brendo, 2014)
- Brendo (2014)
Without any doubt, ritchie mccaw is miles ahead of the rest.
- Worldwary (2014)
Has every poster here missed what this blog is about? It's not about who you think is the best player it's about who is the 'greatest athlete of all time' and who is going to represent Rugby in this. Who cares that you thought Barry John walked on water or Halfpenny (can't actual believe that one fullstop) is an awesome kicker. Who cares that Bennett was the best you ever saw or 'gwaf snigger' you think BOD is the 'gwaf snigger' the greatest...it's ALL totally irrelevant with regards to this blog, unless they also fit the following categories. There's plenty of other blogs where you can d iscuss their greatness, this is concerned with Rugby's representative 'Best Athlete'.
There's seemingly only two ways to do/choose this:
1) By selecting the best all round physical specimen to represent rugby in a 'virtual' cross sport Multi-Discipline Competition to determine the 'Best', OR
2) By selecting the player with the best all round records in Rugby to go up against a 'virtual' record knock out v all other sports, ie are Jordans NBA titles bigger accomplishments than Woods achievements in Golf?
For Category (1) its hard to look past Lomu or Pierre Spies. Granted Lomu divides opinion and even Pierre's Mum has given up believing he's ever going to set the Rugby world alight, but as an athlete he is World-Freak class (esp as an all rounder) and he just happens to play Rugby. As to Lomu, well I doubt I have to convince anyone who ever saw him that he'd more than hold his own against a Bo Jackson, LeBron James or Tyrrell Owens.
I've heard McCaw and Read are superfit and that Back was just a machine (and endurance may be part of it) whilst Jerry Collins was so tough that kryptonite shattered if you threw it at him so they are possible candidates. As is George Gregan who I've been told more than once was the 'most perfect specimen' ever to go through the Australian Institute of Sport, across all sports and all time, since it's inception. However I believe outright speed is essential for this and regardless I just don't see any of them dominating like Lomu or Spies.
Some may say George North (I'm pretty sure we all know who) and I've no problem with this, however it's a matter of opinion but, I'm still more impressed with Lomu in his prime. In addition Lomu is the better balanced and all round athlete. The only other consideration that I'm sure would do well is Michael Jones, a terrific athlete, yet again I'm not totally convinced he's the absolute best choice though.
I'm open to suggestions though as long as they adhere to the criteria of the article, as I'm sure that off the top of my head I've forgotten a few.
F or Category (2)...umm, well with all due respect to the 'Golden Era of Welsh Rugby' and delusional 'gwaf snigger' BOD lovers I'm afraid any and all arguments stop at the foot of players wearing (All) Black. There simply isn't the possibility for a player from any other country to take in a legacy of records to compete for Rugby against all other sports in this competition. Barry John can't, JPR & Bennett can't, Johnson and Wilko and Carling and Cotton can't, Blanco, Porta, Eales and Smit are no go's, Gibson, Gregan, Gerber and Piennar don't get cigars and nor does 'gwaf snigger' BOD, we can't even say that about Sella, Horan, Kyle, Joost, Botha or any number of sensational players.
This has nothing to do with their talent or achievements it's simply a reflection of the fact that none of them are able to take any record into a 'Worlds Best' knock out that even slightly compares to one from New Zealand.
The mere fact they play for NZ enables them to bring the NZ legacy as part of their repertoire, and that's hands down freakishly impressive! What do they have you ask...what don't they have I answer! Some facts:
-NZ all time winning percentage 75%+ (miles ahead of the next best - SA at 62%)
-NZ winning percentage last decade 85% (a record in ANY major sport - the next best being Canada Ice Hockey at 62%)
-Ranked World No1 twice as many times as ALL other teams COMBINED
-A winning percentage of 91% against Europe's best teams.
-Only team to be named World Rugby Team 3 times or more
-Positive win ratio against ALL countries (only team with this)
-Only ever been defeated by 5 countries (the Welsh not since 1953)
-NEVER been defeated by the major nations of Argentina, Ireland or Scotland in 110+years of rugby. (NO other nation has this non-loss pedigree)
-Won the 3N's Championship TWICE as many times as SA & Oz COMBINED. (12 of 18 3N/RC & 43 of 55 Bledisloe Cups)
-Highest 'all time' individual points scorer, Highest try count over history of game, Highest points tally over history of the game, Lowest points 'against' over history of game, Best winning points differential over history of game.
-ONLY country with a player named World Player of the year more than once (NZ have 2. McCaw 3x and Carter 2x)
-Equal longest winning streak of 17 shared with SA (but NZ have achieved this twice)
-Longest 'non-losing' streak (an incredible 50 games without a loss)
-Most 'Grand Slams' achieved of any Southern hemisphere nation.
-Best record against the Lions with only 1 loss in all contests.
-TWO time World Cup champions.
-Best record of ALL nations for World Cup finishes
-Most World Cup wins, Highest points tally, Highest try tally, Highest tournament history try tally, Best winning points differential.
-In fact they lead ALL World Cup stats except oldest player and 'points tally by one player over all world cups'.
There's more but I'm getting tired of it now. Suffice to say that's impressive, but the scary thing is that they have a current player who's own personal additional stats take this almost stratospheric...in all sports. It's so far beyond any other Rugby player that he's our only choice, and that man is Richie McCaw.
-3x World player of the year (only him and Carter have ever won it more than once)
-Played 129 Tests for 114 wins (89.11%)
-Played 92 Tests as Captain for 81 wins (89%) - The Highest Capped Test Captain in Rugby Union History.
-Most Tries in Tests by any forward.
-Most Tries in Tests against ANY Tier 1 Country (Australia - this is ahead of Cullen, Campese, Habana & Williams to name just a few)
-Won all 3 Grand Slam Tours v Northern Hemisphere sides he's attempted - 2005, 2008 & 2010.
-World Cup Winner
-12 Consecutive Bledisloe Cups (never been lost since he's been a player)
-9 Rugby Championships
-4 Super Rugby Titles with the Crusaders, 3 as Captain.
Staggering!! - I got scared just looking this up...and that's not even all of it!!
Nobody else can claim anything like this in the history of Rugby. Therefore he is the only man capable (as per the 'Category 2' definition) of representing Rugby in the 'Greatest Athlete'.
- Will.i.am (2014)
Buck Shelford , Gary and Alan whetton should be there
- Ian Scott (2014)
Christian Cullen should be there.
- Jim (2014)
Barry John, Phil Bennett, JPR Williams, Naas Botha, Michael Lynagh, Neil Back, George Gregan, all deserve to be on the list. But just look at a couple of old videos of Barry John and it's game over, he wins hands down
- Abrek (2013)
Rugby players are like cars. The best players are like all terrain hummers. Jonah Lomu was like a monstertruck/tank hybrid on rocket fuel.
- lee halfpenny should be here and should be at least 7 (from Ewan, Mar 2013)
- Barry John, John Dawes, Sean Fitzpatrick, Gearld Davies, Carl Haymans, Andy Irvine, Fabien Galtie (from joe, Mar 2013)
- Richie McCaw and Jonah Lomu should be no 1 and no 2 jonah lomu is the best player of all time there is no one like him. (from Josh, Mar 2013)
- What is Wilkinson doing on the list Steve Larkam was a far superior play and I m English, where is McCaw, Williams, Joost VDW etc etc try picking best team ever then I think it would be right. Wilkinson was good but it was the mighty forwards that won us the 2003 WC, and Steve Larkam being on and off the pitch for 60 mins due to a blood injury. (from Linus penna, Mar 2013)
- Dan Carter is so the best (from Hugo Batchelor, Mar 2013)
- Lomu makes people look stupid and he was on dialysis.
- Brian O'Driscoll. Simple. Greatest ever player, both in skill and leadership. That is why they call him BOD (from Ryan, Mar 2013)
- Surprised to see no George Gregan, but for me it has to be O'Driscoll, to this day he is still a massive contender for another British and Irish lions tour (from Harry Lewis, Mar 2013)
- I would vote Brain O'driscoll Will Carling puts him 10th not sure on that (from liam bull, Feb 2013)
- I vote Dan Carter but i think Richie Mccaw should be included if he is there in this list he should be #1 no douts 112 tests 100 win that a wining rate of 89% and for the one who say mccaw stinks you are a idiot. (from Dilhan, Feb 2013)
- jonny wilkinson all the way ... it was his drop kick that won england the cup (from ben, Feb 2013)
- I think it is one of the amazing Welsh team either Barry John, Phil Bennett, Gareth Edwards, JPR Williams or maybe even Shane Williams (from Ben, Feb 2013)
- Is this some kind of joke, where is Richie McCaw, George Gregan, Joost vd Westhuizen, Percy Montgomery, Naas Botha, Dan Carter? To be fair, you can't choose a greatest ever in rugby, because there is 15 different players with 15 different job descriptions also you can't compere players from the professional era (90's-) to players before then.
- Lomu , Cullen, Phil Bennett , Zimzam , George Smith , Gregan , Horan , Gascot, John Gallagher, Fitzpatrick , Joubert , Richard Hill, Johno (from Chris b, Jan 2013)
- I vote brian o'driscoll, also what about neil jenkins. (from kevin james, Jan 2013)
- George Smith? Stephen Larkham? George Gregan?
- Where is Jerry "Rugby's terminator" Collins, Carlos Spencer, Fourie Du Preez, Doug Howlett etc? (from sihle thando pamala, Jan 2013)
- Jonathan Davies best no dought (from Gruffudd Emrys, Jan 2013)
- Israel Dagg, Cory Jane, Conrad Smith, Dan Carter, Richie McCaw, Tony Woodcock should all be in the top 100. (from Kerekau, Jan 2013)
- Bryan habana should definitely be on the list. He is the springbok's all-time top try scorer and equaled jonah lomu's record for most tries in a single rugby world cup. (from ashwin williams, Jan 2013)
- I Cant fathom how there is no Barry John in the list As an Irishman growing up in the 70s, and a big football fan, whenever I saw Barry John I knew I was looking t the best athlete ever. A tremendous player in a tremendous Wales team. (from Ricky Young, Jan 2013)
- Jack Kyle, Michael Henderson Gibson. Surely worthy of consideration even amongst players of the modern game?! (from Paul McIlroy, Dec 2012)
- johnny wilkinson most overrated player of all time, good goal kicker but nothing special that aside (from M, Dec 2012)
- Richie McCaw is the greatest (from Glenn Milidachi, Dec 2012)
- Unbelievable!! No Jon Eales (Australia) (from Ron, Nov 2012)
- This list needs Bakkies Botha (SA) and Victor Matfield (SA) (the most experienced lock pair ever) it also needs Joost van der Westhuizen (SA) and Theiry Dusatoir (France). William Small Smith (SA) was the first player to stop Jonah Lomu from scoring in the 1995 world cup and then there's Fracois Pienaar an John Smith (Both SA) (from Wihan, Nov 2012)
- Richie McCaw #1 - 100 test wins, Dan Carter #2 - highest points scorer. Agree with comments about Christian Cullen, the guy was a freak (from Jimmy, Nov 2012)
- I think schalk Burger deserve to be in the list. i give that guy the benefit of the doubt. he is a complete player ... he is greatest of them all along with Dan Carter (from Rissalga, Oct 2012)
- Where's brad thorn? (from Shane, Sept 2012)
- Has everyone forgotten about Christian Cullen? (from Linz, Sept 2012)
- I guess i'm from a different age, but here goes. This list could consider the likes of Barry John , JPR Williams & Mervyn Davis (wales). In fact I would offer the oppertunity for those who love the game to look into the achives of Welsh rugby in the 60's and 70's. I very much doubt that those who look long enough would be unhappy to put forward a dozen or so names from this magical era. (from chard, June 2012)
- Do you guys hate south africans? the were some of the best rugby players, btw richie mccaw stinks, bryan habana shouldn't be there! (from Rian, May 2012)
- Where's McCaw, Mattfield, Gregan and Joost? (from Sihle, April 2012)
- Where's Stephen Larkham on the list _ he was a great all-round player. (from Berrick Barnes Jnr, Nov 2011)
- I have been reading all these sites about who the greatest rugby player is. quite amusing, rithie mccaw is easily the greatest player in the modern error. dan carter greatest half back and probably george gregan. they were and are stand out players.you cant have brian o'driscoll ? grant fox, johnny wilkinson these were never great all round players thats to name a few. (from brendo, Sept 2011)
- All South Africans that should be on this list: Frik du Preez, Naas Botha, Joost van der Westhuizen, Percy Montgomery, Bryan Habana, Fourie du Preez, Victor Matfield (from Ryno, July 2011).
- Surely Mike Gibson should be there, not to mention Jack Kyle (from Albert Fenton, June 2011)
- Where's shane williams (from joe, May 2011) - Shane Williams is a Welsh international rugby union player.
- Richie McCaw (NZ) should be in here and should be number 1 (from Ryan, Dec 2010).