The 16th 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 Wingers of All Time", I will look at the top ten players ever to play at fullback.
Finally concluding this countdown of every position is the fullback. Often the last line of defence, the fullback needs to be a good tackler with safe hands and a fair bit of pace. They also need to be able to come into the line to create space and overlaps. Here are my top ten:
10. Tom Kiernan (IRE) - Narrowly beating the likes of Matt Burke and Chris Latham to number 10 is Ireland's Tom Kiernan. He was the star of the Ireland team in the 60s and early 70s and, when he retired, he held almost all their records.
He was their most capped player (54), their most experienced captain (24 matches as skipper), and record points scorer, with 158 points. He went on one British and Irish Lions tour, in 1968, where he was named captain for the trip to South Africa.
9. Gareth Thomas (WAL) - A very controversial player, Thomas can also be very unpredictable. Despite his conflicts with authorities, he still managed to become the all-time Wales appearance maker, taking over from Gareth Llewellyn on his 93rd cap. He went on to make 100 caps, becoming the first Welsh player to ever reach the century mark.
He was also, until recently, Wales' highest try scorer in test matches, with 40 tries to his name. He was named on the 2005 Lions tour, and went on to win three caps, scoring one try in the process.
8. Andy Irvine (SCO) - His sheer pace and incisive running rank Irvine up among the best players Scotland have ever produced. Playing from 1972-1982, Irvine notched up 51 caps for his country.
He was also selected on three British and Irish Lions tours, in 1974 to South Africa, 1977 to New Zealand and 1980 once more to South Africa. He also has a number of appearances for the Barbarians to his name.
7. George Nepia (NZ) - An early All Black rugby legend, Nepia's almost faultless fullback play helped him to 46 appearances in a New Zealand shirt, scoring 99 points. His kicking was accurate, and his tackling was solid, Nepia just did the basics better than anyone had before him.
In addition to his 46 All Black games, Nepia also appeared 24 times for the New Zealand Maori, which was believed to be his preferred team to play for.
6. Percy Montgomery (RSA) - He has been at the top for over a decade now, and Percy Montgomery has picked up every trick in the book. Love him ir hate him (I stray closer to the latter), Montgomery continues to put in great performances for the Springboks.
He is their highest points scorer with 887 points and he has done this in 99 cpas, also a South Africa record. One more cap and he becomes the first Springbok ever to make it to the century mark in Rugby Union.
In 2007 he guided South Africa to Rugby World Cup success.
5. Don Clarke (NZ) - Don Clarke was arguably the best goal-kicking fullback rugby has ever seen. Nicknamed "The Boot" for his spectacular accuracy, Clarke won 31 test match caps for the All Blacks.
When he retired, Clarke had notched up 781 points for New Zealand, a record which stood for almost a quarter of a century, before Grant Fox overtook it.
4. Gavin Hastings (SCO) - Yes, Irvine was one of Scotland's greatest players, but he wasn't their greatest fullback. That honour goes to Gavin Hastings, former captain of his country. He was named captain for 20 of his 61 caps, and in those 61 caps he became Scotland's highest ever points scorer (a record which has since been passed).
He also held the record for Rugby World Cup points, and is third in the list of Scotland's top try scorers. He went on two Lions tours, captaining them in 1993, winning six caps and scoring 66 points, a record for a Lions player in tests.
3. JPR Williams (WAL) - A spectacular all-round athlete, Williams was not only a key part of the all-conquering Welsh team of the 70s, but a talented tennis player and even a successful surgeon!
He won 55 caps for Wales in his international career, winning three Grand Slams in the process. He also holds a rare record of being undefeated against England, despite having played them 10 times.
Williams was selected for two Lions tours, the successful 1971 tour and the unbeatable 1974 tour, both of which he played a major part in.
2. Christian Cullen (NZ) - Cullen exploded onto the world scene with seven tries in his first two international matches. His blistering pace and ability to break through the line made him one of the deadliest players in the world.
He went on to score 46 tries in just 58 tests, which was, at the time, a New Zealand record, which has since been broken by Doug Howlett. His 58 tests also make him the All Blacks highest capped fullback ever.
1. Serge Blanco (FRA) (pictured) - He was flamboyant, creative, inventive, and when there was a gap, devastating. Blanco was such an elegant player, but also one who did everything great fullbacks have to do, but threw some flair into the mix.
Blanco was a threat from everywhere on the field, and often took risks which we very rarely see nowadays. On a number of occasions he ran from his own try line to start a try-scoring move, or sometimes he went all the way himself, like against Australia when he gave David Campese a taste of his own medicine, tying him in knots before going past him and putting the ball down.
He won 93 caps for France, which was a record when he retired, scoring 233 points. In 1997 he was inducted into the International Rugby Hall of Fame.
Serge Blanco is my greatest ever fullback!
Coming soon - Greatest Ever Rugby Union XV
Other articles from this series include:
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