The tenth installment of my Greatest Ever series is here!
In this series I will look at the greatest talents to grace various sports. This time I continue to look at Rugby Union, and, following my "Top Ten Second Rows of All Time," I will look at the top ten players ever to play in the flanker positions.
Playing on the flanks of the scrums, hence the name of their position, flankers are often the most agile forwards, and usually the biggest hitters. There are two types of flanker - blindside and openside, so called for the side of the scrum they go. As with props, these positions are similar, but different enough for few players to be able to play effectively in both.
10. Richard Hill (ENG) - Just pipping former England team-mate Neil Back and former French flanker Jean-Pierre Rives to number 10 spot, Richard Hill was a "silent assassin" for club and country for years. His incredibly consistent play ensured he was the only player never dropped during Sir Clive Woodward's tenure.
He won 71 England caps, scoring 60 points, and was named on three British and Irish Lions Tours, winning five caps.
9. Ian Kirkpatrick (NZ) - A former New Zealand captain, Ian Kirkpatrick played for his country for a decade, winning 39 test caps. As well as excellent forward play, Kirkpatrick also had a knack for scoring tries, getting 16 tries for New Zealand (a record at the time), and a phenomenal 115 tries in his provincial career.
This total made him one of the few forwards to reach the century mark. In 2003 Kirkpatrick was inducted into the International Rugby Hall of Fame.
8. Fergus Slattery (IRE) - A fourteen year international career saw Slattery win 61 caps for his country. 18 of these were as captain, including the 1979 tour to Australia, regarded as Ireland's most successful tour ever.
He was called up on two Lions tours, winning four caps overall, all coming in the hugely successful 1974 tour to South Africa. In 2007, Slattery was inducted into the International Rugby Hall of Fame.
7. George Smith (AUS) - Australia's most capped forward, George Smith has been a key figure in the international set-up since his debut in 2000, a match he played before he had ever played a professional game of rugby.
He was one of just three current players to be named in the Wallabies team of the decade, after going to two World Cups, including one final with them.
6. Richie McCaw (NZ) - He has been the best in his position for a while now, and Richie McCaw is fast becoming an All Black legend. A man-of-the-match performance on his international debut was a sign of things to come, and he is currently captain of the Kiwis.
In 2006, he was rewarded for his fantastic form with the IRB Player of the Year award.
5. Dave Gallaher (NZ) - Dave Gallaher is best known for being the captain of "the Originals", who were the first New Zealand team to be called the All Blacks. Despite a short international career (1903-1906), Gallaher became a force to be reckoned with, as he started revolutionising the role of a back-row forward.
He only played six test matches for the All Blacks, but is fondly remembered as a New Zealand rugby legend, despite actually being born in Ireland.
4. Jean Prat (FRA) - A 2001 inductee into the International Rugby Hall of Fame, Prat was a fantastic all-round player. He scored 139 points in his 51 French caps, in ways ranging from wonderful tries to conversions.
Prat also captained his French side from 1954 onwards, and is an inductee into the International Rugby Hall of Fame.
3. Wavell Wakefield (ENG) - Probably the most important figure in the development of back row forwards, Wakefield used his athletic skills to change the flanker from a static player to one who constantly pressurised the opposition half-backs and supported attacks in open play, as well as the standard winning of the ball in rucks.
He won 31 caps for England, captaining them 13 times, and, had it not been for World War I, he would have added significantly to those. He was the first English inductee into the International Rugby Hall of Fame.
2. Francois Pienaar (RSA) (pictured) - Arguably South Africa's most successful captain ever, Francois Piemaar's crowning glory came in 1995 when he guided the Springboks to a World Cup success in South Africa. He was greeted and awarded the trophy by Nelson Mandela.
Despite his huge success, Pienaar had a remarkably short international career, just three years. Despite this he won 29 test caps and is regarded as one of the best players the country has ever produced.
1. Michael Jones (NZ) - Named the third greatest All Black of all time, behind Colin Meads and Sean Fitzpatrick, Michael Jones was nicknamed "the Iceman" for the cool way he played, always looking like he was at ease on a rugby pitch, whatever stood before him.
Despite an 11-year international career, he only won 55 test caps, due to injuries and his refusal to play on Sundays due to his strict Christian beliefs, something which caused him to be omitted from the 1995 World Cup squad.
He holds many distinctions, but perhaps the biggest is that he was the first ever player to score a try in a Rugby World Cup. Once described as "an almost perfect player", Jones is deserving of his place as the greatest flanker of all time.
Coming soon - Top Five No. 8s of All Time!
Other articles from this series include: