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NOT EV­ERY­ONE WILL agree with the 50 play­ers we have cho­sen for this spe­cial is­sue. There are a few All Blacks in­cluded in our list who didn’t play a sig­nif­i­cant amount of test rugby or nec­es­sar­ily have high pro­file ca­reers.

There are some in­clu­sions that take a bit of jus­ti­fi­ca­tion – but who merit their place nonethe­less and to un­der­stand why, it’s im­per­a­tive to be clear that this is­sue is not about ac­knowl­edg­ing the ‘best’ play­ers.

This was not an ex­er­cise is eval­u­at­ing whether Richie McCaw was a bet­ter player than Michael Jones or whether Sam White­lock can now be con­sid­ered a bet­ter lock than Colin Meads. That wasn’t it at all.

In­stead, this was an ex­er­cise in try­ing to de­ter­mine which play­ers have been able to have gen­uine in­flu­ence in shap­ing the All Blacks’ legacy. There are, in any his­tory, fig­ures who fail to earn the ac­knowl­edge­ment they should.

It could be they ei­ther lack pro­file or longevity – and as a re­sult their con­tri­bu­tion isn’t judged as fairly as it should be. Or it might be that they never had a plat­form or mech­a­nism by which that con­tri­bu­tion can be as­sessed and mea­sured.

We ob­sess about the best with a clear un­der­stand­ing of what that means. In­flu­ence is some­thing dif­fer­ent and some play­ers have shown they didn’t need to have been around for long to have had a ma­jor im­pact.

Some play­ers have shown that they didn’t nec­es­sar­ily need to have been the star player or even have had an ob­vi­ously good test ca­reer to have had ma­jor in­flu­ence.

And that’s why we de­lib­er­ately wanted this is­sue to be an op­por­tu­nity to re­ally think hard about who it is ex­actly that has had a ma­jor role in in­flu­enc­ing rugby his­tory in this coun­try.

We also, de­lib­er­ately, wanted to have a broad in­ter­pre­ta­tion in re­gard to how we de­ter­mined in­flu­ence.

The only rule was that for a player to be con­sid­ered, they had to have played for the All Blacks. Hence some­one such as Steve Hansen, who has had sig­nif­i­cant in­flu­ence in the 13 years he’s been in­volved with the team, couldn’t be con­sid­ered as he was never picked as a player.

Wayne Smith by way of con­trast was a use­ful first-five who won 17 test caps and has had a ma­jor im­pact as a coach, too.

Other than that one clear rule, there was lee­way to make ar­gu­ments to in­clude cer­tain play­ers who didn’t have an ob­vi­ous case for in­clu­sion.

In some cases that was ab­stract, or cer­tainly oblique, but nonethe­less we are happy with the re­sult. We are happy to have stated the case for a hand­ful of play­ers to be in­cluded even if some will won­der why.

In that cat­e­gory comes Liam Mes­sam – a player who had a hard time es­tab­lish­ing him­self as a reg­u­lar test se­lec­tion, and re­ally, only en­joyed an 18-month pe­riod as a first-choice pick at blind­side when Jerome Kaino was out of the coun­try.

But while Mes­sam can’t say he was a great All Black as de­fined by caps ac­cu­mu­lated and per­for­mance, he still had a mas­sive in­flu­ence. Mas­sive be­cause he in­spired those around him with his work ethic and at­ti­tude.

He lived his life by the high­est eth­i­cal code and no one in the last five years has shown more pow­er­fully how to live by the mantra that team must come first. Mes­sam was a bench­mark for his peers.

He forced them ev­ery­day to chal­lenge them­selves to be bet­ter and to work harder – which is gen­uine in­flu­ence.

Eric Rush would be an­other who won’t get any­where near a list of great All Blacks but with­out him, there may never have been a Jonah Lomu smash­ing his way through de­fences at the 1995 World Cup.

It was Rush who did more than any­one to men­tor and man­age Lomu and get him to South Africa that year in top shape. It was Rush who was al­ways there for Lomu, ad­vis­ing, guid­ing and in­spir­ing, and if it hadn’t been for him, who knows what would have come of Jonah?

Again, that’s in­flu­ence and Rush has had a ma­jor role to play in shap­ing the leg­end of the All Blacks al­beit not so much by what he did with the ball in his hands on the field.

It was, in the end, a truly fas­ci­nat­ing ex­er­cise try­ing to be fair to all eras and to all play­ers. If there was one de­ci­sion that took longer to make than any other, it was the one to not in­clude Zin­zan Brooke.

Great player, ex­tra­or­di­nary skills and big per­son­al­ity, but rightly or wrongly the con­clu­sion was reached that there were other play­ers who had more in­flu­ence.

Ob­vi­ously, not ev­ery­one will agree but that is the joy of these things. We don’t all see the game the same way; don’t all agree which in­ci­dents, events and play­ers have been the most in­stru­men­tal in shap­ing the game’s his­tory.

So en­joy the read. Chal­lenge our find­ings and ra­tio­nale but please, please re­mem­ber, this is not about the best.

Gre­gor Paul, Ed­i­tor

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