There's no rugby side in the world today with a more prominent legacy than the mighty All Blacks of New Zealand.
Perenially, the ABs are found atop the International Rugby Board's ranking system; and have a winning record against every international rugby team with whom they've competed.
The All Blacks were named the IRB's team of the year in 2005, 2006 and 2008; and have 14 players who are members of the International Rugby Hall of Fame.
New Zealand has one World Cup title in their resume, which was coincidentally the inaugural competition held in New Zealand and Australia in 1987; and the All Blacks will host the World Cup in 2011, where they have high hopes of bringing the trophy home once again.
Compiling a "greatest ever" list wasn't a simple task, especially by position; but here's my best attempt.
Full Back — Christian Cullen (1996-2002)
Also known as the "Paekakariki Express," Cullen showed exceptional rugby qualities at an early age.
Cullen's ability as an astonishingly prolific try-scorer is reflected in the fact that in 58 tests between 1996 and 2002 he scored 46 tries, which became the All Black record at the time.
His entire first class career includes representation for Horowhenua, Manawatu (15 matches in 1995-96), Central Vikings (nine games in 1997), Wellington (39 matches in 1998-2003) and the Hurricanes (85 Super 12 matches) he scored in excess of 150 tries.
Wing — John Kirwan (1984-1994)
John Kirwan was strongly built and unusually tall for a wing; he dazzled the rugby world with his considerable pace and determination.
At his peak, in the seasons between 1986 and 1988, Kirwan was magnificent, exceeding in those years even his great Australian rival, David Campese.
In 1987, he was a star of the All Blacks' World Cup, his length of the field run for a try against Italy is an enduring image remembered by rugby fans across the globe.
He also scored a crucial try despite being in agony with a hamstring injury in the final against France. His greatest year, certainly in terms of try-scoring, was in 1988 when in five test matches against Wales and Australia, he scored a tally of 10 tries.
Outside Center — Frank Bunce (1992-1997)
In his prime, Frank Bunce and North Harbour teammate Walter Little formed a formidable midfield combination, arguably the best in the world.
In all, Bunce played 69 matches for New Zealand, 55 of them tests.
Inevitably, he is compared with another late blooming All Black center, Joe Stanley, with his ability to read a game and make play for his outsides.
Perhaps as a result of a background of working on Auckland trash trucks, one of Bunce's assets was his strength in the tackle, either giving or receiving. A subtle as well as a strong runner he scored 20 test tries.
Inside Center — Dan Carter (2003-Present)
Dan Carter is prominently known as the best fly-half in the world today, but to make room for others on this list and considering his strong play at inside-center at the 2003 World Cup, he makes his mark here.
Carter possesses a dynamic array of physical and mental skills, including great speed, deceptive strength and a dangerous side-step. He is a reliable goal-kicker, an astute tactician and a calm backline general.
In 2006, Carter's 25 points against South Africa at Wellington tied the All Black single-match record against South Africa.
His 15th Test try scored against England in London, set a new All Blacks record for most test tries by a fly-half, a record he extended against France in Lyon.
Carter also holds the record for the most points scored in Super 12/14 history.
Wing — Jonah Lomu (1994-2002)
At the peak of his career, Jonah Lomu, like Dan Carter, was known as the best player in the world.
At his best, which was when he first burst onto the New Zealand rugby scene as an 18-year-old in 1994 and then in the two World Cup tournaments, Lomu was virtually unstoppable.
Standing 6'5", and weighing up to 120kg, Lomu in top physical condition could run 100 meters in or about 11.0 seconds.
Given space and room, he was a nightmare for much smaller defenders and the image of him trampling over England's Mike Catt in the 1995 World Cup semifinal will be one which persists through the next few decades.
Statistics don't do full justice to the impact Lomu made in New Zealand and world rugby.
Fly Half — Grant Fox (1984-1993)
Grant Fox dominated the All Black fly-half position in the late 1980s through to the mid- 90s, and was one of the most potent scorers in New Zealand history.
In 78 matches for the All Blacks, he scored 1067 points and in his 46 tests he registered 645 points, his sole try coming against Scotland in 1990.
In 303 first class matches, he scored a record 4112 points, of which 2746 came in 189 games for Auckland.
A key member of the great Auckland sides of 1985-93, Fox scored 932 points in Ranfurly Shield rugby, nearly three times more than anyone else.
Half Back — Sid Going (1967-1977)
"A bundle of barbed wire, cast iron and rubber, Sid ran like a slippery eel making for the water. Without warning he exploded like a bunch of firecrackers and some of his fantastic feats on the field could only be equalled in a topline circus."
Sid ranks amongst the best running half-backs ever. Strong and stocky, weighing 81kg and 5'7", he was a superb runner close to his forwards, with a flair for the unorthodox.
Though sometimes criticised for the quality of his passing and trying too much himself. Going was nevertheless a gamebreaker supreme.
No. Eight — Zinzan Brooke (1987-1997)
Zinzan Brooke was of the most skillful forwards to have played for the All Blacks and was one of the most versatile and durable.
Brooke received the ultimate compliment from All Black coach John Hart when he said there would never be another player like him.
His 17 tries in tests were a world record for a forward. Many of his more than 150 tries in his first-class career came from pushover tries at the base of the dominant Auckland pack, but the nature of the tries don't detract from the skill and competitiveness of one of the All Black giants of the 1990s, and one to live with the giants of the past.
Openside Flanker — Richie McCaw (2001-Present)
Richie McCaw is a key figure for the All Blacks and is generally recognised as the world’s best openside flanker.
McCaw has the size and strength to be a punishing defender, the cool head and quick hands required to master the breakdown area, and the speed and handling skills to play a traditional tearaway’s linking role to superb effect.
McCaw was named as All Blacks captain for the first time for the test against Wales in 2004 aged just 23; in 2006, he captained the side in all 12 test matches.
McCaw was awarded the IRB Player of the Year award in 2006 after being a finalist in both the International Rugby Players Association and IRB awards in 2003 and again for the IRB in 2005.
Blindside Flanker — Michael Jones (1987-1998)
Michael Jones was nicknamed 'the Iceman' or 'Ice' because of the cool but confident manner in which he played, and the number of icepacks he needed for injuries.
Prominently known as an openside flanker, Jones also spent na great deal of time on the blindside. He has been voted by Rugby World magazine as the third best All Black of the 20th century.
Jones won many plaudits for his on field deeds, even being acclaimed by some judges as the greatest rugby player of all time.
Part Samoan heritage, he was a splendid role model off the field as well. Always polite and quietly spoken, and a solid student who gained two university degrees, he won respect for the dignified manner with which he stuck to his principles.
Lock — Ian Jones (1989-1999)
Long and lanky, Ian Jones overcame constant carping, especially in his early years, about his perceived lack of bulk to become one of New Zealand rugby's greatest ever locks.
When he left the New Zealand game in 1999 to finish out his playing days with a lucrative English contract with Gloucester, he had 79 tests to his credit, second only to Sean Fitzpatrick's 92.
In the Super 12, Jones made 38 appearances, often as captain, for the Chiefs between 1996 and 1999. He once scored three tries in a match against the Waratahs in 1996.
Lock — Colin Meads (1957-1971)
Aptly nicknamed "Pinetree", for nearly 14 years in All Black rugby, Meads, firstly as a siderow forward but more constantly as a lock, was a towering presence, and was one of the best and most inspiring players New Zealand rugby has known in any position.
Meads received just about every honor the game bestowed, including membership of the International Hall of Fame and the New Zealand Sporting Hall of Fame. T
here was no dispute when at the end of the 1999 The New Zealand Rugby Monthly magazine proclaimed him the New Zealand Player of the Century and in the New Year Honours list of 2001 he was made a New Zealand Companion of Merit.
Tighthead Prop — Carl Hayman (2001-2007)
By the time he had left at the end of the 2007 World Cup for an overseas contract, Carl Hayman was generally seen as the world’s best tighthead prop and one of the best New Zealand has produced in the position.
Nobody in the history of the sport came close to Hayman's exceptional abilities at the scrum. Besides his strong scrummaging technique, he possessed surprising mobility and considerable ability as an effective lifter.
Hooker — Sean Fitzpatrick (1986-1997)
Sean Fitzpatrick, with his durability, competitiveness and his role in making the hooker a dynamic cross between a tight and loose forward, achieved greatness.
He was also an inspiring leader and of the record 92 tests he played for the All Blacks between 1986 and 1997 he captained 51 of those, also a record. Fitzy had established himself as one of the most significant All Blacks of all time.
As a legend, he's rated with the most notorius men who have a status not simply as rugby stars, but as folk heroes.
Loosehead Prop — Olo Brown (1990-1998)
When Olo Brown played, he was the cornerstone of the pack. With his technique and straightness of back, he was rated by scrummaging experts as one of the finest props to play for New Zealand at any time.
His provincial and test teammate, Sean Fitzpatrick, swore by his prowess; and few scrums anchored by Brown were ever bettered. Around the field too, he was a competent player capable of also playing at hooker.
He also had above-average intelligence, having had a fine academic record at Auckland's Mt Albert Grammar, and even when the game had become professional, continued with a "real" job as a chartered accountant.
Doug Howlett - Wing (2000-2007)
Joe Rokocoko - Wing (2003-Present)
Tana Umaga - Outside Center (1997-2005)
Justin Marshall - Half Back (1995-2005)
Wayne Shelford - Number 8 (1985-1990)
Ali Williams - Lock (2002-Present)
Tony Woodcock - Loosehead Prop (2002-Present)
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