Ranking the 6 Best No. 8s in Rugby History

Terence O'RorkeContributor ISeptember 2, 2013

Ranking the 6 Best No. 8s in Rugby History

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    Some ranking lists more or less choose themselves, but deciding on the best No. 8s in rugby history is a task that will cause much debate.

    A quality No. 8 usually distinguishes himself by being a jack of all trades. They are defensively strong at close quarters and in the wide channels, fast and powerful with good hands, able to control the ball at the base of the scrum and able to provide an option in the lineout.

    Not all the players on this list meet that criteria, but most do. And while there is plenty of room to disagree on these players being the best six, there is no denying they are all No. 8s of great distinction.

6. Dean Richards

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    Without a doubt the least conventional of the players chosen here, Dean Richards was a force of nature for England and Leicester, but very much unique in both his style and look.

    A stalwart of England's multi-Grand Slam winning side of the late 1980s and early 1990s, Richards was also a key member of the victorious 1991 British and Irish Lions.

    What Richards lacked in pace he more than made up for with brutal strength and an ability to grind opponents down with the relentless close-quarter control adopted at the time by England and Richards' highly successful club Leicester.

    With his socks-down, ambling gait, "Deano" very likely would have had to lose a few pounds for today's game, but there is no doubt his ability to smother opponents and take a game by the scruff of the neck would have made him a star in any era.

    Richards went on to become a highly successful coach with Leicester and Harlequins, where he received a lengthy ban for his part in the "bloodgate" scandal. The former policeman is now back in the top flight of the English game after leading Newcastle to the Championship title last season.

5. Sergio Parisse, Italy

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    Who knows how successful long-serving Italy skipper and No. 8 Sergio Parisse could have been had he played for one of the top Test-playing nations?

    Despite the relative limitations of Italy over the last decade, Parisse has always stood out and on many occasions has been the best player on the pitch, no matter the score.

    The Stade Francais No. 8 is a supremely talented athlete, tall, fast and strong, and with an innate ability to be in the right place at the right time. He also has a real eye for the try line, which he has crossed 10 times while wearing the blue of the Azzurri.

    Parisse won the first of his 98 caps at the age of 18 and has a good chance of becoming the most capped international of all time over the next few years.

4. Zinzan Brooke, New Zealand

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    As well as possessing the most zany name on this list, Zinzan Brooke joins Parisse as having dropped a goal in a Test matchthree in fact, the longest being a remarkable effort from 47 metres.

    Brooke was also the most prolific try-scorer on this list, touching down 17 times in the 58 Test matches he played for the All Blacks.

    Although Brooke had to play second fiddle to the great Wayne Shelford, he was a member of the All Blacks squad that won the inaugural World Cup in 1987.

    New Zealand failed to repeat that victory in 1991, and in 1995 when they were favorites to lift the trophy. Brooke retired from international rugby after that tournament to play for English club Harlequins, whom he later went on to coach.

3. Lawrence Dallaglio, England

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    Lawrence Dallaglio quite simply won everything that was possible to him in the game: the World Cup, a Lions tour, World Cup Sevens, Heineken Cup, European Challenge Cup, English Premiership and the English domestic cup.

    Clearly Dallaglio was hugely talented, but what often set him apart from his rivals and opposition was his supreme confidence. Dallaglio just had a look which convinced teammates that they were going to win, and most often they did.

    England coach Clive Woodward certainly recognised this quality, and it is no coincidence that Dallaglio was the only player to play every minute during England's triumphant 2003 World Cup campaign.

    A former England captain and one-club man, Dallaglio now makes a living as a rugby commentator and journalist.

2. Mervyn Davies, Wales

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    The late Wales and British Lions No. 8 Mervyn Davies is the only player on this list from the pre-World Cup era. That much is clear from his handlebar moustache and funky headband.

    Nicknamed "Merv the Swerv," Davies won the Triple Crown and Grand Slam with Wales and was a key member of the victorious 1971 and 1974 British Lions tours to New Zealand and South Africa respectively.

    Fondly remembered as Wales' greatest skipper, Davies was forced to retire from the game at the age of 29 after suffering a brain hemorrhage playing for Swansea.

    Davies played 38 times for Wales and eight times for the Lions, and he was on the losing side in just nine of those games. Nor was he ever dropped by Wales.

    An OBE and member of the IRB Hall of Fame, Davies sadly lost his long battle with cancer in March of last year at the age of 65.

1. Wayne Shelford, New Zealand

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    Few players come close to matching former New Zealand No. 8 and captain Wayne Shelford in terms of pure aggression and will to win.

    "Buck" Shelford was at the heart of the All Blacks pack that swept aside all challengers in the inaugural World Cup, a tournament in which New Zealand quite simply had no genuine challengers.

    Shelford went on to skipper New Zealand for three years and during his stint as skipper the All Blacks won all of their matches bar one, a draw with Australia.

    Rugby fans also have Shelford to thank for the All Blacks adopting the proper version of the haka, the "Ka Mate," which he taught teammates after taking them on a visit to a Maori school.

    As well as possessing a granite right hook, Shelford will be forever remembered for the infamous "Battle of Nantes" in 1986, the second Test with France that has gone down as one of the most brutal in rugby history.

    Not only did Shelford return to the field after having stitches to a tear in his scrotum, he also lost four teeth in a match the All Blacks lost 19-8. A true warrior in every sense.