Ranking the 6 Best Flankers of All Time
Of all ranking lists for positions in rugby union, selecting the six all-time best flankers is the most difficult.
Flankers are the fans' favourites because of the everyman role they perform. They need to be able to tackle like lunatics, be first to the breakdown, provide the link between forwards and backs, and roam the wide spaces with the skills of a three quarter.
They are generally the most noticeable players on the pitch and therefore claim a wide following.
This list will split opinion, so please let us know where were went wrong.
6. Francois Pienaar, South Africa
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South Africa's 1995 World Cup-winning captain makes this list on account of the power of his personality and his place in modern South Africa society, as much as for his very considerable rugby skills.
Pienaar only played 29 caps for the Springboks but every one was as skipper, and it was under his watch that they won their first World Cup—as host nation.
Not only did Pienaar's side topple a heavily-fancied All Blacks team in front of an expectant South Africa population, they managed in their own small way to bring together South Africa's post-apartheid society.
5. George Smith, Australia
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Despite bowing out from international rugby after a drubbing from the British and Irish Lions, George Smith's contribution to Australia rugby was immense.
Smith was capped 111 times and represented the Wallabies for more than a decade, which is a remarkable achievement in a position where the punishment levels are highest.
After a spell with Japanese club Sanyo Wild Knights, Smith returned the Super 15 side the Brumbies for this season and his impact was immediate.
Smith wasn't quite able to take them all the way, but his performances in helping the Brumbies reach the Super 15 final were more than enough to persuade the Wallabies selectors to call him back.
It's just a shame the Lions were so superior on what was his swansong.
4. Jean-Pierre Rives
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Tearaway openside Jean-Pierre Rives epitomized everything about French rugby during an international career that last from 1975 to 1984.
He was flamboyant, unpredictable and utterly absorbing top watch as he played with a grace and commitment ahead of his time.
Rives was more in the mould of the current openside, serving as a link between forward and backs, but he was also the heartbeat of the fearsome French pack.
A multi Grand Slam-winner, Rives also led Les Bleus to a famous victory over the All Blacks in New Zealand. In keeping with his unconventional approach, Rives is now a renowned artist and sculptor.
3. Richard Hill, England
Observers always say of Richard Hill that he was so good you never even noticed him. Everything he did he did was with absolute efficiency.
What is also very true is that he was certainly noticed by his absence and never more so than when he left the field with injury midway through the 2011 Lions tour of Australia.
The Lions had dominated three halves of rugby when he was in the back-row, were leading the series 1-0 and were up at halftime in the second Test.
Hill played no further part and the Lions went on to throw the series.
The 76-times capped flanker would have his revenge two years later when England went on to win the World Cup, with Hill forming a key partnership with Lawrence Dallaglio and Neil Back.
The Saracens star came very close to topping this list.
2. Michael Jones, New Zealand
New Zealand flanker Michael Jones was widely regarded as the finest athlete of his generation.
Jones stood out in an All Blacks team that dominated world rugby and steam-rolled their way to the 1987 World Cup title.
Although he won 56 caps for New Zealand, Jones career was blighted by injury and was very nearly curtailed by serious damage he suffered to his knee.
The Auckland Blue and committed Christian was never quite so fast again but made a successful switch to the blindside and continued his career until the late 1990s.
Truly one of the great players of all time and no doubt some would favour him top of this list.
1. Richie McCaw, New Zealand
There's not much more to say about New Zealand skipper Richie McCaw that has not already been said.
The only thing to do is to agree with the long list of superlatives that have been used to describe a flanker who has operated at the very top of world rugby for the last 12 years, and counting.
With 119 caps already to his name, McCaw has a remarkable 86 percent success rate playing with the All Blacks and has skippered them to victory in the World Cup, the Rugby Championship, the Bledisloe Cup and against the Lions.
Also on his resume are several Super Rugby titles his club Canterbury Crusaders.
McCaw has been consistently excellent throughout this period, so good in fact that detractors have taken to questioning the legality of his play, as if pushing the boundaries of the offside line was unique to him.
Is McCaw the greatest flanker of all time? Quite possibly. Is he the greatest player of all time? By the time he brings the curtain down on his illustrious career he may well be.