Will Carling’s Best 50

Will Carling’s Top 50 rugby players of all time

13 Aug 2007

50. Rory Underwood (Wing, England, 85 caps) Did well to score tries early in his career as well when England were not so strong. Pace, power, ability.

49. Uli Schmidt (Hooker, S Africa, 17 caps) First explosive front row runner I ever saw – his side step and balls skills were mind boggling for a hooker.

48. Fran Cotton (Prop, England, 31 caps) Sheer size and might of the guy was incredible. Iconic photograph sums him up. One of the classic Lions.

47. Joost van der Westhuizen (Scrum half, S Africa, 89 caps) One of the most dangerous runners at scrum half there has ever been, certainly in my career.

46. Graham Price (Prop, Wales, 41 caps) To me any prop that can run the length of the field and score at Parc des Princes is very special.

45. Andy Irvine (Full Back, Scotland, 51 caps) Could play wing or full back. Ability and confidence to take risks and carry off what he intended from anywhere on the field.

44. Lawrence Dallaglio (No 8, England, 77 caps) In his prime he had everything really – pace, power, aggression, pride.

43. Gregor Townsend (Fly half, Scotland, 82 caps) Naturally gifted player, he was always predictably unpredictable and was a player that could win a game on his own.

42. Fergus Slattery (Flanker, Ireland, 61 caps) The long hair and the side burns complimented his courage and his bravery. Another classic lion.

41. Michael Lynagh (Fly half, Australia, 72 caps) Great tactician, great kicker, very underrated runner, pivot of 1991 World Cup winning side.

40. Denis Charvet (Centre, France, 23 caps) Minuscule but to me a classic French centre with mesmeric pace, skill and guile.

39. Rob Howley (Scrum half, Wales, 59 caps) Had it all as a scrum half and was still brilliant behind a losing Welsh pack.

38. Phil Bennett (Fly half, Wales, 46 caps) Almost in here for his three sidesteps for the Baabaas alone (1973 v All Blacks). Brilliant runner.

37. John Kirwan (Wing, New Zealand, 63 caps) First of the big powerful wingers with a sidestep, the ball skills and a footballing brain.

36. Gerald Davies (Wing, Wales, 46 caps) The most devastating sidestepper I’ve ever seen.

35. Tana Umaga (Wing/Centre, New Zealand, 74 caps) He was the focal point of the New Zealand backline and a great reader of the game.

34. Raphael Ibanez (Hooker, France, 84 caps) Durability and passion. His career was over but amazingly he is now back to captain France.

33. Jerry Guscott (Centre, England, 68 caps) Smooth runner, pace, anticipation, confidence, a supreme attacker.

32. Richard Hill (Flanker, England, 71 caps) I’m a huge fan of his. Great work rate, great lines, great at reading the game. Quiet, unassuming demeanour but was always vital.

31. Nick Farr-Jones (Scrum half, Australia, 63 caps) Intelligent player, great tactician, great skills, great leader.

30. Keith Wood (Hooker, Ireland, 58 caps) Mad explosive Irish talent.

29. Jason Leonard (Prop, England, 114 caps) Over 100 caps as a prop is unbelievable.

28. Barry John (Fly half, Wales, 25 caps) The king, to me his swerve and body movement were simply sublime. With just a subtle move of his hips he was a very deceptive runner.

27. Richie McCaw (Openside, New Zealand, 55 caps) Brave, athletic, quite outstanding exponent at the breakdown.

26. Morne du Plessis (No 8, S Africa, 22 caps) He was everything that’s great about South African rugby – intelligent, athletic, brave.

25. John Eales (Second row, Australia, 86 caps) Line out genius, quiet leader, double world cup winner.

24. Jonny Wilkinson (Fly half, England, 57 caps) The ultimate kicking and defensive fly half.

23. Dan Carter (Fly half, New Zealand, 41 caps) At his best – sublime. If he continues in same vein will make top ten.

22. Wayne Shelford (No 8, New Zealand, 22 caps) Huge influence in returning the pride to the haka and the All Blacks.

21. Tim Horan (Centre, Australia, 80 caps) Double World Cup winner. Pace, balance, great ball skills, courage.

20. JPR Williams (Full Back, Wales, 55 caps) When I was growing up he was the embodiment of competitiveness. Brave, attacking full back and a rock in defence.

19. Willie John McBride (No 8, Ireland, 63 caps) Pipe smoking legend, the definitive Lion.

18. Sean Fitzpatrick (Hooker, New Zealand, 92 caps) Nasty, ultra-competitive winner.

17. Peter Winterbottom (Openside, England, 58 caps) Respected in New Zealand, Adored in South Africa, worshipped by me.

16. Jean-Pierre Rives (Openside, France, 59 caps) Hardest and bravest man I have seen on a rugby pitch, and he had all the skills.

15. David Duckham (Wing, England, 36 caps) His talent and sidestepping ability shone through though he was starved of ball.

14. Colin Meads (Second Row, New Zealand, 55 caps) Pinetree. This hard man was the foundation which the success of the All Blacks was built around.

13. Mike Gibson (Centre, Ireland, 69 caps) Almost the complete centre. Balance, vision, ball skills, temperament.

12. George Gregan (Scrum half, Australia, 132 caps) Most capped player of all time says it all.

11. Philippe Sella (Centre, France, 111 caps) Prince of French centres, at his best untouchable.

10. Brian O’Driscoll (Centre, Ireland, 71 caps) As a balanced centre he has everything pace strength, great attacking skill as good in defence as in attack. On the 2001 Lions tour he showed his outstanding talent as the stand out back in the series. He has the ability to prise open defences that other players cannot even contemplate. With his poise, his change of speed and his closeness to the ground it is very hard to stop him. Ireland are half the side without him.

9. Zinzan Brooke (No 8, New Zealand, 58 caps) A number 8 who could drop a goal from the 10 metre line. For a forward his skills were outrageous. As comfortable playing 7s as 15s, he had better kicking and handling skills than some fly halves playing international rugby. You align that with his strength and ability as a forward to read the game – he was unique.

8. Martin Johnson (Second row, England, 84 caps) Inspirational leader, formidable player, competitive in every situation. The example he set in every tight situation in every game led the way. He didn’t ask you for effort or even have to demand it, his very presence made you want to live up to his high standards. He was indispensable to England in the World Cup win. He made it happen.

7. Hugo Porta (Fly half, Argentina, 58 caps) Out of anyone that has made an impact on international few can match Porta. Argentina were playing at a lower level until the class of Porta lifted them. He was a great kicker of the dead ball and out of hand but he was also tactically astute – he knew when to attack and when to kick. He put Argentina on the world map single-handedly, an amazing achievement.

6. Danie Gerber (Centre, S Africa, 24 caps) I wouldn’t have liked to play against him. With his pace, power and aggression he was like a little rocket. He was built like a tank and had the pace of a formula one car. Although he wasn’t seen much on the international scene (boycotts during apartheid) he made a huge impact. With more time he would have had an incredible effect.

5. Serge Blanco (Fullback, France, 93 caps) He sums up all that is brilliant about French rugby. He had the audacity to take risks that no one else would. He was daring but he had the breathtaking ability to pull it off. He turned many matches from full back. He was the epitome of the brilliant Frenchmen. A dream to watch, a nightmare to play against.

4. Jonah Lomu (Wing, New Zealand, 63 caps) Talking of nightmares, the physical impact that Lomu had on the 1995 World Cup was beyond the effect of any other player in the history of the game. He was so quick, so powerful and so strong that he changed rugby. He could singlehandedly take on four or five players – no one had done that before or has done it since.

3. David Campese (Wing, Australia, 101 caps) He was well ahead of his time. His anticipation and vision was way ahead of what everyone else was attempting, and 99 per cent of it came off. He took running lines no one else could fathom and made passes no one could see were on. He was an extraordinary talent – the best winger.

2. Michael Jones (Openside, New Zealand, 55 caps) Like Zinzan Brooke for ball skills. He also had great acceleration and pace and could have played for most international midfields. Yet he was a no 7 who read the game brilliantly and was devastating in defence. He was the first multi talented openside. Up until he played it was unheard of to be such a complete player in this position.

1. Gareth Edwards (Scrum half, Wales, 53 caps) It’s hard to compare generations yet Edwards is the one guy I can say that would have been great whenever he played. He was a supreme athlete with supreme skills, the complete package. He played in the Seventies but if he played now he would still be the best. He was outstanding at running, passing, kicking and reading the game. He sits astride the whole of rugby as the ultimate athlete on the pitch.