Greatest Ever: Rugby Union: Top Ten Fly-Halves Of All Time

Barney CorkhillSenior Writer IAugust 12, 2008

The 13th 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 Five Scrum Halves of All Time", I will look at the top ten players ever to play at Fly Half.

This has been by far the hardest to call out of any position so far. I had a list of about 20, all of whom had a real claim to be in the top five. But I've managed to whittle it down to just ten.

Usually the kickers in the rugby team, fly-halves need an accurate boot, great passing, solid tackling and explosive pace to make breaks. A good fly half can easily win you the match, especially if it's a tight match with no tries. A good fly-half, therefore, is vital in a good team.


10. Andrew Mehrtens (NZ) - With 967 points to his name, Andrew Mehrtens is the highest scoring All Black in history. He managed this in just 70 tests, which makes his test aggregate a record for a New Zealander.

He made an immediate impact on his international debut, scoring 28 points against Canada. He went on to score more conversions than any other player in international rugby history, a record which still remains. He is also the highest scorer in Tri-Nations history.

He holds first and second place on the list for most points by one player against one country, with 209 and 202 points against South Africa and Australia respectively.


9. Michael Lynagh (AUS) - A former Wallabies captain, Michael Lynagh is the highest points scorer in his countries history, with 911. When he retired, that total was also a World record points tally, but it is now fifth on the all-time list.

A member of the 1984 Grand Slam winning team, Lynagh played for his country for 11 years, winning 72 caps for his country. He was the vice-captain at Australia's successful World Cup campaign in 1991.


8. Phil Bennett (WAL) - One of the most skillful fly-halves ever to play the game, Phil Bennett was the first ever substitute in a game of International rugby. Due to fierce competition for his international place in a Wales side that was the dominant force in the world, he only won 29 caps for the Welsh.

Despite this, he went on two Lions tours, the all-conquering 1974 tour to South Africa, where he scored 103 points, including a spectacular 50-yard try, and the 1977 tour to New Zealand, where he was named captain.

He also played 20 times for the Barbarians, starting the try which Gareth Edwards finished which is now regarded as the best of all time. A year previously he had guided his Llanelli side to a historic 9-3 win over the All Blacks.


7. Naas Botha (RSA) - Botha was one of the most accurate kickers the game has seen, both with his left and right feet. Playing at the same time as his country's apartheid policies, Botha would have surely added to his 28 caps and 312 points had he been playing under similar conditions to everyone else.

Until Percy Montgomerie surpassed his total, Botha help the record for most points scored for South Africa.


6. Mark Ella (AUS) - Had he not retired at just 25, Ella had the potential to be No. 1 on this list. The likes of David Campese still say that Ella was the best player he has ever seen on a rugby pitch.

A former Wallabies captain, Ella only won 25 caps in his brief career, but he left his mark on the rugby world, showcasing his talent in the Bledisloe Cup when he delivered a "round the body pass".


5. Jonathon Davies (WAL) - Poorly treated by his country, Jonathon Davies could have been an even bigger success in Rugby Union had he not been forced out to Rugby League. He impressed hugely in both codes of the game.

At just 5'8 and 12 stone, Davies had the odds stacked against him when he came up against the biggest in international rugby, but his pure skill and natural quality made up for his lack of size, helping him become a shining light in an otherwise largely unspectacular Wales team.

His finest moment may have come on the 1988 tour to New Zealand as he scored a 90-yard try. However, they went on to lose by over 50 points, so the joy won't have lasted for long.


4. Neil Jenkins (WAL) - As a goal-kicker there have been few that can rival Neil Jenkins. He was as reliable as they came with the boot. In his 87 Wales caps he scored 1,049 points, becoming the first man in test rugby history to break the 1,000 point mark.

He was also selected on two British and Irish Lions Tours, in 1997 and 2001, winning four caps and scoring 41 points. Despite criticism early on in his career, Jenkins managed to overcome the adversity and become the highest points scorer in Wales history after just 28 tests.


3. Barry John (WAL) - The third Welshman in a row, Barry John is widely considered to be one of the greatest fly-halves ever. And had he not retired at just 27, then I'm sure he would've gone on to top this list.

His partnership with Gareth Edwards was one of the most devastating half-back partnerships in International rugby history. Nicknamed "The King" for his pure quality, John went on two Lions tours, in 1968 and 1971, winning five caps and surely would've added to that and his 25 Wales caps had he not retired so early.

In 1997 John was inducted into the International Hall of Fame.


2. Hugo Porta (ARG) - The man who almost single-handedly carried Argentina through the 70s and 80s, Porta is another regarded to be perhaps the best fly-half of all time. However, he wasn't tested against the very best regularly, and so can only get second on this list.

He won 58 caps for the Pumas, captaining them 34 times, including during the first ever Rugby World Cup in 1987. He is still widely regarded as the country's greatest ever player and is a member of the International Rugby Hall of Fame.


1. Jonny Wilkinson (ENG) (pictured) - Yes, my number one is Jonny Wilkinson. I can see myself getting a bit of stick for this one, but I just couldn't decide who to put at number one, so I thought, who would I like to have at fly-half in my all time team? Well, here is your answer.

If you count both national and Lions points scored, Wilko is the top points scorer of all time, with 1,099. And, had it not been for an almost four year absence after the World Cup Final, he would be streets ahead of second place Neil Jenkins.

In 2003 he was the best player in the world, but since that drop-goal he has been blighted with injury problems. He is a solid tackler, a good passer and one of the most accurate kickers in the games history, be that from conversions, penalties or drop goals.

No-one has scored more points, more drop-goals or more Rugby World Cup points than Wilkinson, and he is the only player to have ever scored points in two Rugby World Cup finals. He averages 14.5 points a game which, after 70 England caps and six Lions caps is a fantastic record, and is more than anyone else on the list of leading rugby union test scorers.

This and that drop-goal in 2003 is enough to make him my greatest fly-half of all time.


Coming soon - Top 10 Centres of All Time



Other articles from this series include:

Top Three Loose Head Props of All Time

Top Three Hookers of All Time

Top Three Tight Head Props of All Time

Top 10 Second Rows of All Time

Top 10 Flankers of All Time

Top Five No. 8s of All Time

Top Five Scrum Halves of All Time