Swansea’s 1992 vintage side, a side built and coached by Mike Ruddock, would go on to become the premier Welsh side of the 1990s – as any good Jack will insist!
But few gave them a chance against the Australians who had named their Test team, rather than the dirt-trackers who Swansea fans will tell you were defeated by Llanelli RFC 10 days later.
In contrast, injuries meant the All Whites fielded a front row containing ageing club stalwart Keith Colclough and Swansea University student Chris Clark – who was making just his fifth senior appearance.
But there was something special in the Swansea Bay air that day.
The St Helen’s terraces that sweep away from the ground always make it difficult to create a pressure-cooker atmosphere, but on this occasion the crowd could have been encamped on the touch line.
A roar that rolled down to the Mumbles went up as Colclough drove opposing loose-head Matt Ryan out of the first scrum.
For me – peering through the mist and rain from the terraces – the defining moment came soon after as Wallaby number eight Tim Gavin picked up at the base of another retreating visitors scrum.
His monstrous bulk drove through Richard Webster’s initial tackle, and then over the top of opposite number Stuart Davies.
With the Wales back-rowers swatted aside, blind-side flanker Alan Reynolds – an All Whites legend known to all as ‘Santa’ – flew across and seemed to clamber up Gavin’s back before driving him into the turf with a block-busting tackle.
With the momentum rolling, Scott Gibbs slipped through the midfield defence to slide in for an excellent try.
Portly outside-half Aled Williams kept the scoreboard ticking with two penalties, a drop goal and conversion.
And hooker Garin Jenkins got the old St Helen’s grandstand rattling with the clinching second-half try, pouncing on a loose Australian tap-back from a defensive line-out.
But if international stalwarts Gibbs and Jenkins stole the headlines, it was as much about the club regulars stepping up for their day of glory.
“The game was so special to me because Swansea was my bread and butter,” said Gibbs.
“I was playing alongside people who have been my friends for life, the guys I worked hard with all week.
“More than that, it was my only victory over Australia – all the games with Wales seemed to be foregone conclusions.
“Australian sport is epitomised and set apart by skill level and their appreciation of space.
“Their union sides may not have the aggressive uniformity of the All Blacks, the sheer mass of South Africa, or the flair of France.
“But they have that precision and are some of the best rugby athletes and players in the world – their sporting ethos is what we should aspire to.”
Wallabies coach Bob Dwyer said that the Swansea display was “as good a performance as I can remember by a Welsh side”.
A record-equalling six All Whites went on to represent Wales in the Test with Australia on 21 November – Davies, Gibbs, Jenkins, Webster, Robert Jones and Reynolds (as a substitute).
Swansea: Anthony Clement; Mark Titley, Kevin Hopkins, Scott Gibbs, Simon Davies; Aled Williams, Robert Jones; Chris Clark, Garin Jenkins, Keith Colclough, Paul Arnold, Richard Moriarty, Alan Reynolds, Stuart Davies (capt), Richard Webster.
Australia: T Kelaher; D Smith, J Little, T Horan, P Carozza; P Kahl, P Slattery; M Ryan, P Kearns (capt), A Blades, W Waugh, J Eales, T Coker, S Scott Young, T Gavin.
In 1984 the Mansfield Marksman were born straight into the professional divisions.
With the Mansfield Brewery’s popular lager as the main sponsor it was thought that support would flood in and so planted roots at Field Mill.
Their pre-season games in the midst of the ongoing miners’ strike saw the team play the biggest names in rugby league including St Helens and Wigan, but suffered heavy defeats.
t was also reported that during the pre-season games, the most prominent names in the team were on holiday, creating opportunities for local players to take stage.
Already there was doubts that professional rugby league wasn’t being taken seriously in the town.
The first Division Two match for the Marksman saw an attendance of 2,291 against Wakefield in a 15-0 win.
When it mattered most the Marksman could pull off the results to keep media support rolling in even if it was scarce.
However, despite the Marksman success on the field, attendances declined weekly.
In the second half of the season when results weren’t consistent attendances dropped to just a few hundred.
Of course the slump in the Marksmen’s first season of existence had financial implications. It was reported that the team had suffered a loss of a staggering £90,000.
In their first season (1984/85) they finished a respectable 9th in the table
In 1986 the Marksmen made the move from Field Mill to Alfreton Town FC, but then later moved to Sutton Town’s ground. Finally the Mansfield Marksmen made their resting place at Nottingham’s Harvey Hadden stadium in 1989, but soon became Nottingham City RLFC. Just how did it go so wrong for a team who had so much potential?
The move to an area where the sport is virtually non-existent was a great risk. Much more could have been done make Mansfield more aware of the sport and educate people in what rugby league is all about. Perhaps there was no room in Mansfield for two professional sports teams or perhaps it was just the wrong time to drop a team in Mansfield during a period of conflict in the area. If there had been a thriving amateur scene in the area there’s a possibility it may have taken off better.
Mansfield Marksman RLFC
Mansfield Marksman was founded in 1984 and joined the Second Division along with Sheffield Eagles, in 1984-85. Mansfield was chosen as it was in the heartland of the Nottinghamshire coalfields, and close to Yorkshire where rugby league was much stronger.
Their General Manager was Dave Parker, a rugby league journalist. They played initially at Mansfield Towns Field Mill, and were sponsored by Mansfield Breweryand named “Marksman” in the singular after a lager the brewery produced. The club colours were predominantly sky blue and dark blue shirts with yellow trim, however towards the end of their existence the club colours became a more basic blue and amber. The team was composed of northern, mainly West Yorkshire based players, who travelled down to play for Mansfield.
Mansfield’s pre-season friendlies saw them play some of the strongest teams in British rugby league, including St Helens and Wigan. Unfortunately Mansfield’s big name players were on holiday and a weakened team, including many local players, went down to heavy defeats.
Mansfield first home game in the Second Division attracted 2,291 spectators and they defeated Wakefield Trinity 15-0. They won eight of their first nine games; the only defeat being 7-6 at Dewsbury. However, they struggled after this and attendances declined steadily. Their final home game of the season against Rochdale Hornets was watched by 321 spectators and they were beaten 9-8. The club lost £90,000 in this first year and could not afford the rent at Field Mill. The final game there was on 2 February 1986 when Marksman lost 32-2 to Leigh.
The club then moved to Alfreton Towns North Street stadium. The first game at the new venue was on 23 March 1986 when Mansfield were beaten 42-18 by Workington Town in front of a crowd of 290.
The club moved once again for the 1988-89 season to Sutton Towns Lowmoor Road ground at Kirkby in Ashfield
Table for 1985/86 where the Marksman finished bottom
Nottingham City RLFC
A boardroom split occurred over the decision to move the club to Nottingham in June 1989. The move also led to the loss of sponsorship by Mansfield Brewery and the club was renamed Nottingham City RLFC. They played at the Harvey Haddon Stadium and their initial club colours were sky blue shirts with a dark blue and gold vee, carrying over the Mansfield Marksman colours. Later the club colours changed to myrtle green, yellow and white shirts. In later years the shirts were myrtle green with purple trim. One season the team adopted the name Nottingham City Outlaws RLFC, a name that would later be used by the city amateur side.
The Nottingham team was led by player-coach Mark Burgess, several players were from Batley Boys RLFC and other local towns, Dave Parker took over as Managing Director at Huddersfield and the Nottingham City club was run by former Mansfield Director Paul Tomlinson and his mother Joan. As Nottingham they won only seven games in four years.
Their first season in the Second Division 1989/90 table below
Chief Executive Maurice Lindsay wanted to reduce the number of clubs in the lower division of the league in 1993. The three clubs finishing bottom of the second division would be demoted to the National Conference League . Nottingham struggled and finished bottom of the Third Division at the end of the 1992-93 season, winning only one game. With both Nottingham City and Blackpool Gladiators both already relegated, the crucial last match at Nottingham on 12 April 1993, between Nottingham City and Highfield would determine the final relegation spot. Highfield won 39-6 and Highfield survived at the expense of Chorley Borough
The RLSA, the Rugby League Supporters Association, had called on fans to turn out at the Harvey Haddon Stadium in protest against the decision, City’s normal crowd of three hundred or so was boosted by this to a season’s best of 851.[The three expelled clubs plus Highfield RL pursued legal action against the RFL decision, but to no avail.
Nottingham could no longer afford Yorkshire-based players so imported local Nottingham Crusaders players who weren’t up to National Conference League standards and they were relegated in their first year and then resigned from the league the following year.
For the 1991/92 season there were 3 divisions but Nottingham City came bottom again
“From an athlete’s point of view, for me, there was no one bigger than Ali,” added the rugby league convert.
“He’s my man. He won a gold medal, he was an Olympian and it would be awesome to say I am an Olympian as well.
“His faith [was inspiring] and I guess, though he didn’t always say the right things, he always backed it up. I appreciate that from an athlete. I can only imagine the scrutiny and amount of people that would want to see him fail. But he kept on trucking on.
“There was that fight against George Foreman where no one expected him to win, the odds were stacked against him but somehow he did. It showed the character of him, the man he was.
“It wasn’t just about his mouth, he had something deep inside him that allowed him to go to those dark places and come out on top.”
Mr Consistency. Man of the Match time and again for club and country. A footballing openside, this popular and highly respected centurion went on three Lions tours.
49. Will Genia (AUS)
One of those players who, at his peak, could win a game single-handedly, either with his own sniping breaks or by putting others into space. A real pocket dynamo scrum-half.
48. Alun Wyn Jones (WAL)
Now with 100 Test caps to his name, the Ospreys second row has grown into an inspirational and talismanic figure and would feature in most people’s world team right now.
47. Julian Savea (NZ)
Yes, I know he’s only been playing international rugby for three years, but the impact he has made in that time demands inclusion, with 38 tries in 41 Tests. A modern-day Lomu.
46. Scott Quinnell (WAL)
After a short spell in league, returned to Union when the game went open. One of the most effective ball-carrying No 8s in the world, he was like a one-man pack for Wales at times.
45. Tana Umaga (NZ)
A great reader of the game, the Hurricanes centre was the focal point of the New Zealand back-line for years and a hugely successful skipper, winning 19 out of 21 games at the helm.
44. Gary Teichmann (SA)
This Rhodesian-born No 8 captained South Africa to a record 17 Test winning streak in the late 1990s, leading by example, before launching the Bok and Amber revolution at Newport.
43. Rob Howley (WAL)
Shone brightly despite spending much of his Test career behind a beaten Welsh pack. Confirmed status as a world class scrum-half with the Lions and won Wasps the Heineken Cup.
42. Will Greenwood (ENG)
A tall, stylish and astute centre who had a particular penchant for scoring tries against Wales. Two Lions tours, but his finest hour was lifting the World Cup with England in 2003.
41. Joe Rokocoko (NZ)
The Fijian-born wing boasts a remarkable strike rate, having scored 47 tries in 68 Tests. When you’ve got speed and strength, you’ve always got a chance and he had both in bucketloads.
40. Bakkies Botha (SA)
The second row enforcer in South Africa’s World Cup winning team of 2007, this was a man you didn’t mess around with. Rounded off his career with three European Cup wins with Toulon.
39. Carl Hayman (NZ)
We just hadn’t seen a tight-head prop like him before. At 6ft 4ins and 18st 13lbs, the Otago powerhouse was a man mountain in the All Blacks pack ahead of a lucrative move to Europe.
38. Juan-Martin Fernandez-Lobbe (ARG)
Look for the ball and the Pumas back rower is certain to be somewhere in the vicinity. He’s either scrabbling for it on the deck, plucking it out of the air, fielding it deep or carrying it on the charge.
37. Thierry Dusautoir (FRA)
Produced one of the individual performance of modern times when he made an eye-popping 38 tackles and scored a try in France’s 2007 World Cup win over New Zealand. World player of year in 2011.
36. Jean de Villiers (SA)
A hard-running centre who has also shown himself able to do all the pretty stuff. The king of the interception, he scored 27 Test tries and proved a fine leader of his country. On his way to Leicester.
35. Ma’a Nonu (NZ)
Known initially more for his braided hair and eyeliner, he added passing and kicking to his raw line-breaking power to become one of the great centres, capping his Test career with that superb World Cup final try.
34. Adam Jones (WAL)
His record speaks for itself. The scrum cornerstone of three Grand Slam winning teams and the Test tight-head on two Lions tours. A true legend of Welsh rugby who has also been one of the game’s great characters.
33. Conrad Smith (NZ)
Nicknamed The Snake because of his ability to slither through the smallest of gaps and strike with a sudden burst of speed. Brought fluidity to the All Blacks midfield with his intelligent passing and vision.
32. Scott Gibbs (WAL)
Responsible for one of the great moments in Welsh rugby history, with his Wembley try against England in 1999, and a seminal Lions image with his dumping of Os du Randt two years earlier. A wrecking ball centre.
31. Justin Marshall (NZ)
Some players talk the talk, some walk the walk. Justin Marshall could do both. Backed up his chirping by running the show for the All Blacks in an 81-cap Test career ahead of a high-profile spell with the Ospreys.
30. Percy Montgomery (SA)
Test days appeared to be over when he joined Newport in 2002, but the move actually re-ignited his international career and he went on to be the top points scorer at the 2007 World Cup, excelling at 15 as the ‘Boks took the trophy.
29. Doug Howlett (NZ)
A star sprinter as a schoolboy, once clocked a personal best of 10.94 seconds for 100 metres. Used his speed to great effect in his rugby career, scoring a record 49 tries for the All Blacks. A wing with a high work rate and strong defence.
28. Stephen Larkham (AUS)
A converted full-back, the elegant Larkham proved a worthy successor to Michael Lynagh as the Wallaby outside-half. Pulled the strings to great effect during Australia’s 1999 World Cup winning campaign.
27. Gethin Jenkins (WAL)
Has revolutionised the role of the loose-head prop. Like an extra back rower with his ability over the ball and his defensive work-rate. The medal haul for club and country says it all. Wales’ most capped player of all time.
Blessed with enormous natural ability, has been able to turn his hand to scrum-half, fly-half and centre. Test career seemed over when he headed off to win three European Cups with Toulon but returned to sparkle at this autumn’s World Cup.
25. Jason Robinson (ENG)
Known as Billy Whizz, this former rugby league star proved a hugely successful convert to Union. A lethal runner from full-back or wing, he was a nightmare to mark in one-on-one situations. Had a knack of scoring memorable tries on the big stage.
24. George Smith (AUS)
The scourge of the Lions at the age of 20 and more than 100 caps to his name for the Wallabies before he was 30. An absolute pest and nuisance at the breakdown, made a living out of slowing down or stealing opposition ball. Still going strong with Wasps.
23. Richard Hill (ENG)
The ultimate players’ player. Did all the unseen, grafting work and just got on with his job in unassuming fashion, putting his body on the line. Able to excel right across the back row, he was a pivotal figure on two Lions trips and an England World Cup winner.
22. Christian Cullen (NZ)
Just about the most exciting player in the world game for a few years in the late 1990s. Nicknamed the Paekakariki Express, he had a remarkable strike rate, scoring 46 tries in just 58 Tests for New Zealand, with his elusive running and pace from full-back ripping sides apart.
21. Schalk Burger (SA)
One of the most physical flankers in the game, he was dubbed a “threshing machine” by former Springboks coach Nick Mallett. Came back from injury and life-threatening illness to enjoy an immense international swansong at the recent World Cup. A carrying king.
20. Lawrence Dallaglio (ENG)
Went from being a schoolboy chorister to one of the most formidable physical presences in the game of rugby. Had it all in his prime – pace, power, aggression, pride and a steely mind-set. A Lions series winner, a World Cup winner and a trophy magnet with Wasps.
19. John Smit (SA)
One of the great captains of the professional era. Led South Africa a record 83 times in 111 Tests, guiding them to victory at the 2007 World Cup, a series triumph over the Lions in 2009 and two Tri-Nations titles. A teak hard performer in his own right, mainly at hooker, but also at prop.
18. Fourie du Preez (SA)
Any aspiring scrum-half should watch this man in action. A master tactician, with a great kicking game, he was the lynchpin of the South African team that won the World Cup and defeated the Lions. Then came back from injury to excell once again at the 2015 global tournament, breaking Welsh hearts.
17. David Pocock (Australia)
A worthy successor to Richie McCaw as the most influential player in world rugby, either at 7 or 8. There is simply no-one better in the game over the ball. He is just perfectly built for the role and when he locks himself onto a tackled player, there is no moving him. A fascinating character off the field too.
16. Zinzan Brooke (NZ)
A dynamic ball carrier, this Kiwi No 8 also had better kicking and handling skills than some fly-halves. Heaped the ultimate indignity on England in the 1995 World Cup semi-final, landing an audacious drop goal from 40 metres after they had already been demolished by four-try Jonah Lomu.
15. Paul O’Connell (IRE)
Munster fans will tell you that Superman wears Paul O’Connell pyjamas! The Irish second row was certainly blessed with special rugby powers having been one of the world’s leading tight forwards for more than a decade. A three-times Lions who captained the tour of South Africa in 2009.
14. Victor Matfield (SA)
Dubbed the best centre in South Africa for his love of running with the ball in midfield, this ultra athletic second row has also been a supreme lineout technician. Man of the Match in the 2007 World Cup final, he came out of retirement to serve the Springboks once more after a three year break.
13. George Gregan (AUS)
A talkative figure on the field, was responsible for one of the great on-field jibes, taunting the All Blacks with the words “Four more years” during the dying moments of Australia’s 2003 World Cup semi-final victory. Born in Zambia, this complete scrum-half won a whopping 139 caps.
12. Bryan Habana (SA)
Anyone who races cheetahs in his spare time is likely to be reasonably rapid and the Jo’burg-born speedster has scorched his way to 64 Test tries – joint second with David Campese on the all-time list – including a record-equalling eight to help the ‘Boks win the 2007 World Cup. Further trophy triumphs followed with Toulon and he’s still a razor-sharp presence as he proved this autumn by drawing level with Jonah Lomu at the top of the pile with 15 career World Cup tries.
11. Martin Johnson (ENG)
A player who led by example and the kind of man you would always want alongside you in the trenches when the chips are down. Would never ask someone to do something he wouldn’t do himself. Holds the unique distinction of having captained the Lions on two tours, including the triumphant 1997 trip to South Africa, while he will always be remembered as the man presented with the 2003 World Cup, which England won in Sydney. As well as being an inspirational leader, the Leicester lock was also a formidable player in his own right. A rock like presence in the tight, whose rugby motto was if in doubt, go forward.
10. Jonny Wilkinson (ENG)
In some ways, you could argue Wilkinson has been the epitome of the professional era. He has set new standards in terms of dedication and an almost obsessive pursuit of perfection. He’s also been one of the great match winners of the era and one of the game’s greatest ever accumulators of points. In fact, only Dan Carter has scored more in Test rugby, with Wilkinson having garnered 1,246 during his 97 caps for England and the Lions. His finest hour, of course, came in 2003, when he slotted the drop goal that won the World Cup. The fact he landed it with his weaker right foot speaks volumes for his hours and hours of diligent practice. Bowed out on a high, earning two more trophies with Toulon.
9. John Eales (AUS)
Nicknamed “Nobody” because “Nobody’s perfect” and his record is certainly pretty close to perfection. One of a select band of players to have won two World Cups, skippering Australia to glory in Cardiff in 1999. Captained the Wallabies 55 times during his 86-cap Test career, establishing himself as one of the most respected figures in the game. He was also very much a one of a kind as a player. It’s hard to believe now, but he scored 173 points in international rugby. An agile, athletic second row lineout ace, he was also a top-class place-kicker, who landed 65 Test shots at goal. A real ambassador for the game and a great player.
8. Shane Williams (WAL)
Everyone remembers his side-stepping magic and wing wizardry, but it’s easy to forget just how hard Shane Williams worked in order to be able to hold his own physically on the international stage. Having burst onto the scene in exciting fashion, he spent two years in the Test wilderness amid concerns over his size. But having grabbed his chance at the 2003 World Cup, he worked diligently to complement his God-given ability by working on his physique, emerging as the greatest Welsh player of his generation. Named world player of the year in 2008, he ended up with 60 Test tries, leaving him fourth on the all-time list behind behind Daisuke Ohata, David Campese and Bryan Habana. He was The Great Entertainer.
7. Tim Horan (AUS)
When he made his Test debut for Australia against New Zealand in 1989, he impressed his opposite number, Joe Stanley, so much that Stanley gave him his jersey. The Kiwi knew talent when he saw it.
After emerging as one of the young stars of the 1991 World Cup, Horan returned from a horrendous knee injury to be player of the tournament eight years later as he lifted the Webb Ellis trophy for a second time. Possessed pace, balance, great ball skills and courage, with his attacking prowess, formidable defence and play-making ability marking him out as one of the finest centres the game of rugby has ever seen. Scored 40 Test tries at a rate of one every other game.
6. Sergio Parisse (ITA)
There’s no such thing as a one-man team in rugby, but it’s got pretty close to that with Italy at times over the past decade. That one man, of course, is their talismanic skipper Sergio Parisse.
The Argentinian-born No 8 has been a key figure for the Azzurri since making an eye-catching debut as an 18-year-old against New Zealand in 2002. Big and strong, he has the size to make holes in any defence, but also has hands to die for and the subtlety to execute passes out of the back of his hand as though he were a fly-half. Add to that an astute brain for the game and an absolute refusal to bend the knee and you have pretty much the complete rugby player.
5. Joost van der Westhuizen (SA)
One of the game’s great competitors on the field, the former Springboks scrum-half has carried that attitude into his off-field battles since hanging up his boots. You only have to watch the legendary Living With Lions video from the South African tour of 1997 to understand just how highly he was rated by the opposition and what a threat he was seen as.
Aggressive and fearless, he was arguably the finest running scrum-half the game has ever seen, scoring 38 tries in 89 Tests, a remarkable tally for a No 9. Despite standing 6ft 1ins tall, he was able to find and penetrate the tiniest gaps in opposing defences. An inspirational force as a player, he has inspired people once again in recent years with his fight against motor neurone disease.
4. Jonah Lomu (NZ)
Has one man ever done more to popularise the game of rugby than Jonah? When he burst onto the scene at the 1995 World Cup, it was like a meteor landing from outer space. We had never seen anything like him before and his incredible feats grabbed the attention of folk who had never previously been interested in the sport.
The physical impact Lomu had on the 1995 World Cup was beyond the effect of any other player in the history of the game. He scored seven tries in 1995, including four in an unforgettable one-man demolition job of England in the semi. Lomu went one better in 1999 to finish with a record 15 tournament tries, before going on to show his dignity with his brave fight against debilitating kidney disease.
One of a kind and the impression he left on so many lives was vividly illustrated by the reaction to his death earlier this week. Rest in peace big man.
One of the most feared players in the game, O’Driscoll was also one of the most consistent. His 141 Test caps, including eight for the Lions, place him second on the all-time list behind Richie McCaw. Ireland’s record try scorer with 46 touchdowns, O’Driscoll also led his country more times than any other player and his brilliant defensive qualities and dazzling attacking skills made him a threat all over the field.
Provided some magical memories with his hat-trick against France in Paris in 2000 and his wonderful solo try for the Lions against Australia in Brisbane the following year which evokes memories of the ‘Waltzing O’Driscoll’ song that epitomised the 2001 tour. Holds the Six Nations record for most tries with 26 and was chosen Player of the Tournament in the 2006, 2007 and 2009, leading Ireland to one Grand Slam and three Triple Crowns. Europe’s finest.
2. Dan Carter (NZ)
Dan the man. The greatest back of the professional era, his record speaks for itself. Way out in front as the leading points scorer in international rugby history, with 1,598 points from his 112 caps. Throw in a further 1,708 points for the Crusaders and the fly-half’s impact on the game cannot be emphasised enough.
A prolific goal-kicker, a wonderful silky runner and a masterful controller, he possesses the lot and has been a genuine match-winner at the highest level. The maestro made his Test debut against Wales in Hamilton in 2003, playing at inside centre and giving a sign of what was to come by scoring 20 points. It was also against Wales in 2010 that he kicked a penalty from halfway at the Millennium Stadium to overtake Jonny Wilkinson as the world’s top point scorer.
He averages almost 15 points a Test, the highest of any player in history who has scored more than 500 points. One of his greatest performances came in the second Test against the Lions in 2005, when he outshone Wilkinson in their fly-half battle to lead New Zealand to an emphatic 48-18 triumph in Wellington. He scored two tries, five penalties, and four conversions and ended the match with 33 points, easily eclipsing the previous record of 18.
There was to be injury-enforced World Cup frustration in 2007 and 2011, but he ended his Test career on the perfect note as he produced a Man of the Match display in this year’s final to guide the All Blacks to glory. A fitting farewell.
1. Richie McCaw (NZ)
Who else? You only have to look at the 49 names below Richie McCaw on this list to recognise what a legend the Kiwi flanker has proved over the last 15 years. His stats are quite remarkable. He earned a world-record 148 caps for the All Blacks, winning 131 of those games and captaining his country 111 times. Perhaps my favourite stat is he has played in 32 per cent of New Zealand’s Test match victories since 1903!
When he first emerged from Otaga Boys’ High, he was far from the finished product, as Steve Hansen confirms. “He was good at pinching the ball, but he couldn’t catch, couldn’t pass and couldn’t run,” recalls the Kiwi coach. “But he had a massive desire to be good. He wanted to be good at everything.”
Complementing his natural prowess over the ball, McCaw worked and worked at his game, adding handling skills and dynamic running to turn himself into the complete openside. Unflinchingly brave, he has remained a quite outstanding exponent at the breakdown throughout the career, while also possessing the athleticism and footballing ability to serve as the classic link man and the ball carrying dynamism to consistently break the line. He had the lot.
Add to that his leadership and you have the perfect package. Lifting the 2011 World Cup in his backyard was a fitting tribute to one of the greatest ever All Blacks, but he went on to secure true legendary status as he continued for four more years, breaking record after record and uniquely hoisting the Webb Ellis trophy for a second time. It was to be a perfect ending not just to his international career but also his playing career, as he confirmed his retirement from the game this week.
He could easily have taken up a lucrative contract in France, but that’s not his style. “I really had no desire to play overseas. To go and play rugby just to earn a fat cheque really didn’t spin my wheels. If I felt I could continue to play, I would stay right here in New Zealand.” Classy until the end. Richie McCaw – the single most influential player I have ever seen play the game of rugby and my No 1.