Ranking the 6 Best Fly-Halves in Rugby History
As the heartbeat and playmaker of most teams, the fly-half is often the most prominent player on the pitch.
They need to be able to run, pass, kick and defend (though granted that last quality has on occasion been absent); they mostly need an array of talents.
For this reason, there is no shortage of choice when writing a list of all-time great fly-halves, but that in itself presents a challenge in whittling it down to the top six.
No doubt many will disagree with this choice—and we welcome all differences of opinion—but here are the greatest No. 10s of all time.
1. Jonathan Davies, Wales
In this writer's mind, there is no question that Wales' Jonathan Davis was the greatest fly-half to have played the game. He's perhaps even the greatest player of all time.
Okay, so he abandoned the 15-man game in search of "riches" in rugby league, but his quite brilliant success in the rival code just serves to enhance his claim to be the all-time greatest.
The former Wales and Great Britain star was blessed with great pace, great acceleration and a step that would leave defenders grasping at shadows. His move to league just made him faster and stronger.
He also was an intense competitor, as this try against the All Blacks shows (go to 0:35). Wales were on the wrong end of a hiding at the time during a disastrous tour to New Zealand. But Davies simply refused to throw in the towel and with this moment of brilliance rescued some personal pride.
In all, Davies played 37 times for Wales and was capped 10 times for Great Britain in an era that was particularly blessed with rugby league talent.
Davies played for a number of clubs in both codes, and his time at each was marked with a series of outstanding displays. Who knows what he might of achieved had he stayed in the 15-man game?
2. Dan Carter, New Zealand
There is not much that Dan Carter has not achieved in the game, and though he was absent through injury for New Zealand's World Cup triumph in 2011, there is no doubt he has been their key back for the past decade.
Carter has everything: a superb kicking game, a beautifully balanced running game and a sound defence. Everything he does he does efficiently, and like all great players, he appears to always have time on the ball.
Such is Carter's genius that he has kept some exceptionally talent rivals for the All Blacks jersey on the sidelines, players such as Nick Evans and his current stand-in Aaron Cruden.
One of the many highlights of his outstanding career so far undoubtedly came in the second Test of the British and Irish Lions 2005 tour of New Zealand when he scored two tries and amassed 33 points as the All Blacks put the tourists to the sword.
Carter plans to take a well-earned break from the game after this year's Rugby Championship, and there will be many opponents glad to see the back of him—for now, at least.
3. Jonny Wilkinson, England
Despite his achievements in the game, for many the jury is still out when it comes to Jonny Wilkinson's standing in the game.
For some, his apparent lack of a running game diminishes his right to be considered among the world's great fly-halves. Balderdash.
Okay, so Wilkinson is not blessed with the speed or step of some the other names on this list, but he more than makes up for it by excelling in other areas of the game—in particular his brilliant kicking and brutal defence.
Anyway, as this clip shows, Wilkinson has produced more than enough special moments with the ball in hand to disprove that opinion.
As well as wining the 2003 World Cup with this unforgettable drop goal in the last minute of extra time, Wilkinson appeared in the 2007 final, has six Lions caps and is a European champion with current club Toulouse.
Not bad for a player who can't run the ball.
4. Michael Lynagh, Australia
With 71 caps to his name, Michael Lynagh was a linchpin of the Australia sides that dominated rugby for the best part of a decade.
The half-back first made his name at centre playing outside the great Mark Ella on the Wallabies all-conquering 1984 Grand Slam tour of Britain and Ireland.
When Ella retired, Lynagh moved to his more natural fly-half position and with the Wallabies went on to win the 1991 World Cup, beating Ireland, New Zealand and hosts England in the last three rounds.
A last-minute try from Lynagh in Dublin broke Irish hearts but ensured the Wallabies kept their World Cup hopes alive.
Australia were unable to repeat their success in 1995, after which Lynagh retired from the international game and joined London club Saracens, whom he guided to a famous double of cup and league triumphs in 1998.
A prolific scorer of points, Lynagh's game had everything. He could score tries, distribute, kick and defend, all with equal grace and assurance, as this brief clip shows.
5. Barry John, Wales
For many misty-eyed Wales fans, Barry John should be top of this list, no question.
Indeed, had it not been for the fact that John retired from rugby at the height of his powers, he may well have gone on to command such a position.
Across the rugby world he was known as "The King" thanks to his exploits in the red jersey of Wales, and the red jersey of the British and Irish Lions.
Great players need to prove themselves against the best—and in rugby terms that means against the All Blacks—and it was on the Lions' victorious tour of New Zealand in 1971 that John showed just how magnificent he was.
6. Mark Ella, Australia
In terms of running fly-halves, few can match the supreme attacking ability of Wallabies great Mark Ella, one of three rugby-playing brothers who represented Australia.
Ella was the standout performer among many standout performers on Australia's 1984 Grand Slam tour of Britain and Ireland, and he fashioned a new style of fly-half play by taking the ball flat and drawing in the opposition defence.
The supreme attacking fly-half scored in every Test of that tour, repeating a remarkable feat he had achieved with the Australian schoolboys seven years earlier.
Although he retired at the top of his game, for many of his peers, Ella was simply the best player of all time.
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