The 50 best rugby players of the professional era

เวลาปล่อย:2022/11/23 คลิก:

We count down from 50 to one to find the best rugby players of the professional era

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The game of rugby changed forever with the introduction of professionalism in 1995.

It heralded a new breed of rugby star - bigger, stronger, faster and more dedicated than ever before. It has also seen the emergence of true modern sporting heroes. Players who have thrilled us, raised the bar and made the difference at the very highest level.

But who are the best to have played the game over the past 23 years? And who stands out as being number one?

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.

Yes, hes only played international rugby for five years and, yes, he lost his place in the All Blacks team. But the impact he made demands inclusion, with 46 tries in 54 Tests. A modern-day Lomu in many ways but now out of the All Blacks frame and has joined French big-spenders Toulon on a two-year contract.

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.

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.

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.

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.

44. Juan-Martin Fernandez-Lobbe (ARG)

Look for the ball and recently retired Pumas back rower was certain to be somewhere in the vicinity. He was either scrabbling for it on the deck, plucking it out of the air, fielding it deep or carrying it on the charge. Just a great player

The Fijian-born wing boasts a remarkable strike rate, having scored 46 tries in 68 Tests. When youve got speed and strength, youve always got a chance and he had both in bucketloads.

The second row enforcer in South Africas World Cup winning team of 2007, this was a man you didnt mess around with. Rounded off his career with three European Cup wins with Toulon.

Produced one of the individual performances of modern times when he made an eye-popping 38 tackles and scored a try in Frances 2007 World Cup win over New Zealand. World player of year in 2011.

Played his last game for France against New Zealand in Cardiff in the 2015 Rugby World Cup.

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.

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 games great characters.

Its 69 Tests and counting for one of the main stokers in the engine room of the All Blacks.

The lock is still only 27 years of age and has plenty of time on his side to rise considerably in the rankings.

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.

Another to call it a day after New Zealands 2015 Rugby World Cup win at Twickenham and headed to play for Pau, retiring this summer to join their coaching team.

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.

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.

The main man behind Irelands international success in recent seasons and Leinsters stranglehold on the European Champions Cup and Guinness PRO14 double in 2018.

Puts his body on the line time and time again for the Irish and Leinster cause and as well as 76 caps in the famous green jersey, the 33-year-old has played six times for the Lions on their 2013 and 17 tours.

Alongside Brodie Retalllick the 100-capped 29-year-old has forged one of the most potent second-row pairings in the global game.

Reached three figures for the Kiwis against the Wallabies on the weekend and his industry in the engine room of the pack is a key ingredient in the All Blacks success.

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.

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 the 2015 World Cup. Still going strong in Japanese rugby.

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.

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. Starting the coming season at Bristol.

Now with 126 Test caps to his name, the Ospreys second row has grown into an inspirational and talismanic figure and would be a candidate for most peoples world team right now.

The recently-retired back-row talisman shades it over Alun Wyn for his achievements with the Lions in skippering two tours to Australia and New Zealand and emerging with a winning and drawn series.

Hung up his boots after his battered body could take no more following 74 Tests for Wales and five for the Lions.

You can readthe inside story of the week that ended his career, here.

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.

A recent arrival into rugbys hall of fame... and not before time.

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 Australias 1999 World Cup winning campaign.

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 and still going.

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.

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 2015 World Cup. A carrying king who went on to join Saracens.

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.

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.

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.

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.

One of the most influential players 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.

A totem of the modern day All Blacks side.

Leads from the front and his 110-cap haul in the Kiwis back-row has helped minimise the 2015 retirement of their captain colossus Richie McCaw.

Munster fans will tell you that Superman wears Paul OConnell pyjamas! The Irish second row was certainly blessed with special rugby powers having been one of the worlds leading tight forwards for more than a decade. A three-times Lions who captained the tour of South Africa in 2009.

Dubbed the best centre in South Africa for his love of running with the ball in midfield, this ultra athletic second row was also a supreme lineout technician. Man of the Match in the 2007 World Cup final.

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 Australias 2003 World Cup semi-final victory. Born in Zambia, this complete scrum-half won a whopping 139 caps.

Anyone who races cheetahs in his spare time is likely to be reasonably rapid and the Joburg-born speedster has scorched his way to 67 Test tries - second 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 before recent retirement.

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 wouldnt do himself.

Like Sam Warburton, 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.

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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.

Hes also been one of the great match winners of the era and one of the games 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.

Nicknamed Nobody because Nobodys 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.

Its 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.

Everyone remembers his side-stepping magic and wing wizardry, but its 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.

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.

Theres no such thing as a one-man team in rugby, but its got pretty close to that with Italy at times over the past decade or so. 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.

One of the games 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. Sadly lost his brave battle against the disease in February 2017.

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 in November 2015.

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One of the most feared players in the game, ODriscoll 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.

Irelands record try scorer with 46 touchdowns, ODriscoll 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 ODriscoll 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. Europes finest.

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-halfs 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 worlds top point scorer.

He averaged 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 the 2015 final to guide the All Blacks to glory. A fitting farewell.

After a spell playing in France for Racing 92, now plying his trade in Japan.

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 hed has played in 32 per cent of New Zealands Test match victories since 1903 at the time of retirement!

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 couldnt catch, couldnt pass and couldnt 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 immediately afterwards.

He could easily have taken up a lucrative contract in France, but thats not his style. I really had no desire to play overseas. To go and play rugby just to earn a fat cheque really didnt 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 to play the game of rugby in the professional era and a deserved number one.

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