50 MOST INFLUENTIAL ALL BLACKS IN HISTORY
10 Sir Fred Allen [1946-1949] CAPS 6
Sir Fred Allen’s record as All Blacks coach may never be bettered – unbeaten over three years  both in tests and first-class games. While he had a distinguished playing career, especially with the 1945-1946 Kiwis, it was for his coaching that he made the greatest impact.
Initially, it was with the Auckland team of the late 1950s and early 1960s, who enjoyed a period of dominance in Ranfurly Shield rugby.
Upon becoming coach of the All Blacks in 1966, Allen became the first genuine ‘hands-on’ coach of the side, which has resulted in the personality of the coach so common in the game now.
After seeing the All Blacks roll the weak British & Irish Lions side of 1966, he set about fashioning a changed game for the All Blacks, a game that would utilise changes in the laws that freed up space for the backs to move the ball, and for halfbacks and fiveeighths to desist from their perpetual line-kicking to set up yet another lineout.
That was evidenced when he convinced the All Blacks hard men of the 1967 team to tour Britain and France that they would enjoy the benefits of running with the ball in hand when supporting their outside players.
Allen arrived in Britain promising a revolution and he achieved it by demonstrating a style of game that has been acknowledged for the way it changed perceptions of how rugby could be played.
Players such as Colin Meads, Ken Gray, Brian Lochore, Stan Meads, Bruce McLeod, Jazz Muller, Waka Nathan, Kel Tremain, Chris Laidlaw, Earle Kirton, Ian MacRae and Bill Davis thrived under his approach while others, including Sid Going, Ian Kirkpatrick and Fergie McCormick were set on the roads to great careers by him.
Sadly, it all came to a shuddering halt in 1968 when he claimed rugby politics forced his hand in retiring early.
9 Buck Shelford [1986-1990] CAPS 22
No one did tough quite like Buck Shelford. He was a hard, hard player – someone who would go through anything to get himself on the field and stay on the field.
His legend was cemented on that front during the infamous battle of Nantes in 1986 when the All Blacks and France played one of the most ferocious tests of the modern age.
There remains a strong suspicion that the French team had taken something before kick o – perhaps amphetamines. Something Shelford himself believes could be true: “When I came out of the tunnel and I saw them, I looked into the eyes of many of the players as I walked past them, and their eyes did not say that they were going into a game against the All Blacks,” he told Radio New Zealand recently.
“Their eyes just looked like they were on something, and I could not prove it.”
The relevance of that is that it might explain why the French were as violent and aggressive as they were. What everyone remembers is that after 20 minutes, Shelford was raked in a ruck and emerged with his testicles badly ripped.
He had them stitched on the side of the field and incredibly played on. It was a story that went around the world and made him a legendary hard man – and elevated the aura of the All Blacks.
“I was knocked out cold, lost a few teeth and had a few stitches down below. It’s a game I still can’t remember... I don’t really want to, either,” he once said.
But as much as the story became one that blokes brought up in bars and winced about, it had a more serious side in illustrating that Shelford had a mindset that was ahead of its time in regard to his determination and commitment to play for the jersey.
He couldn’t help but be inspiring given the level of pain he was willing to invest to achieve his goals.
Such single-minded focus made him a natural leader. He was a player whose actions were strong, bold and defining and therefore perfect for others to follow.
Arguably he wasn’t a devastating player as such. He didn’t have natural pace or phenomenal ball skills. He wasn’t a particularly gifted athlete but he made what he had work. He used all that he had to become a powerful, driving No 8 with the ability to make his presence felt through the tenacity of his defence, the crunch of his ball-running and his ability to put his body in places where opponents teams didn’t want him to be.
That combination made him a warrior-type and perfect for the All Blacks side of that time as they had other natural athletes and ball players in the pack.
What Shelford brought to the table was the ability to lift the personal discipline of those around him. He also brought a renewed sense of pride and nationalism to the team as it was Shelford, as a proud Maori, who was instrumental in invigorating the haka.
On a tour to Argentina in 1985, the subject came up: “One of the players came to me and asked me if we should do the haka,”
HAKA IS ABOUT RESPECT. RESPECTING MAORI. RESPECTING OURSELVES. WE HAD TO PERFORM IT REALLY WELL. SOME OF THE EARLY SESSIONS WERE VERY FUNNY. THOSE PAKEHA FELLAS – TRYING TO TEACH THEM THE MOVES WAS HARD WORK.’ BUCK SHELFORD
Shelford said. “I asked Hik [Hika Reid] and he said no because ‘the Pakeha, they don’t know what they’re bloody doing’.
“He was right! But we had a talk about it. So, I told the boys, ‘If we’re going to do it, we’re going to do it right. Either perform the haka properly or not at all. Vote on it and decide which way you want to go’.
“We still had to learn it, though. Hika told me to keep it real simple. He’d been an All Black since 1980 and had to su er through some shocking performances of haka. Some of them were so embarrassing.
“I told them, ‘Don’t disrespect Maori. Don’t disrespect ourselves’. So we started training haka. A lot of us grew up with the haka. But for a lot of our white brothers, though, their first and only experience with haka was through the All Blacks. From that time, the understanding of what it was began to infiltrate into the All Blacks.
“Haka is about respect. Respecting Maori. Respecting ourselves. We had to perform it really well. Some of the early sessions were very funny. Those Pakeha fellas – trying to teach them the moves was hard work.”
With pride and respect at new levels, Shelford instilled a work ethic in his team to make them understand they could never train enough.
Shelford was the man who helped the modern All Blacks realise that if they wanted to win each time they played, they had to be prepared to go further than every team they played. When they were tired, they had to ignore it, find another gear.
When they were getting on top of an opponent, Shelford preached a culture of no mercy and the All Blacks would become ruthless. They would look to destroy teams, never let up.
Between 1988 and 1990, under Shelford’s captaincy, the All Blacks became this destructive, devastating machine.
They played rugby at pace, with high skills levels but also with this aggressive, relentless desire to dominate opponents physically. In 20 tests they won 19 and drew one leaving Shelford with the most incredible record as captain.
But to this day, why he was dropped from the side remains a mystery that has only added to his popularity with the wider New Zealand public – a point that is indisputable as even 20 years after he last played, there is an obligatory sign at most All Blacks tests saying, ‘Bring Back Buck’.
8 Sir Brian Lochore [1963-1971] CAPS 25
There can’t be many All Blacks who have cast the same amount of influence over the New Zealand game as Sir Brian Lochore.
As a player he quickly stamped an individual role on his play at No 8 where his height provided another option at lineout time while his support and cover play marked him as one of the top exponents of his craft.
When captaincy was thrown into the mix, surprisingly in the minds of many when Colin Meads, Kel Tremain, Ken Gray and Chris Laidlaw were passed over, Lochore grew quickly into one of the more formidable leaders in rugby history, his sides going unbeaten until the South African trek of 1970.
In the process Lochore led the side through the famed 1967 campaign, which rejuvenated international rugby, and it was Lochore’s action in the final moments of the last game of the tour, against the Barbarians, that set in train the movement which secured a try to give the All Blacks an unbeaten tour.
He retired after the disappointments of the South African tour, only to answer the call to arms when the All Blacks’ locking stocks were decimated for the third test of 1971 against the touring Lions.
In making Lochore his captain, Fred Allen, the coach at the time, said he regarded it as one of the best things he did in his career.
By 1980 Lochore took on coaching his Wairarapa Bush provincial side, leading them from the second division of the era into the first division by 1981, where they remained for several years.
It proved a golden era in the side’s history and elevated Lochore to the All Blacks’ selection panel.
He replaced Bryce Rope as coach in 1985 and had to deal with the turmoil of a cancelled tour to South Africa that year and a rebel tour the next.
In the meantime his Baby Blacks side beat the touring French in 1986 and lost to Australia by one point in the first Bledisloe Cup test of that year.
A splintered All Blacks team of rebel players and Baby Blacks limped through the second and third tests of the Australian campaign.
Lochore then had to patch differences as the All Blacks prepared for the inaugural World Cup. He enjoyed the coaching support of the country’s two leading provincial coaches, Alex Wyllie and John Hart, and together they produced a side which claimed the world prize for the first time. Utilising the fitness approach of Jim Blair, who had worked with both Canterbury and Auckland, the All Blacks played a fast, fitness-based game, based on the principles Lochore had experienced under Allen’s coaching. After getting the Bledisloe Cup back later in the year, Lochore retired as coach.
Any thoughts of a comfortable time in retirement were soon forgotten as he was seconded as part of the 1995 World Cup squad in a managerial role, at the end of which news arrived that rugby had gone professional.
Competing forces sought to establish the future structure of the game and the traditional forces were quick to utilise Lochore’s stature in rugby, and amongst All Blacks, to apply pressure for them to remain with the New Zealand Union.
Working with Jock Hobbs and Rob Fisher, Lochore played his part superbly as the players finally joined the fold to create the structure now in place.
He also served as chairman of the Hillary Commission, the government-funded sports body that administers sports programmes and funding across New Zealand.
All Blacks coach Graham Henry called him back act as an independent selector between 2004 and 2007.
7 Sean Fitzpatrick [1986-1997] CAPS 92
It won’t matter who comes along in the future, Sean Fitzpatrick, or Fitzy as he’s universally known, will stand the test of time and always be considered one of the great captains of the All Blacks.
His influence as captain between 1992 and 1997 was enormous. Perhaps one of the best ways to acknowledge it is to look at the issues the All Blacks had in replacing him as captain. Look at how they fell apart in 1998, the first year they had to go into battle without Fitzy.
There were other reasons for that, but integral to their collapse was the hole Fitzy left when he moved on.
His tenure was not an easy one at first. He had been an All Blacks regular since he made the team unexpectedly as a Baby Black in 1986. An opportunity opened and he took it, which was kind of what he was all about.
Fitzy made the most of what came his way because he was grimly determined and insanely focused. He had a clarity in his own head about what he wanted to be and how he was going to get there.
His goal was to be a great All Black and to do that he had to work harder than anyone else who wanted his jersey. He had to be the better player – be prepared, or at least show he was prepared to do anything to wear that No 2 jersey.
It was that attitude that defined him as a player and ultimately led to him being made the captain in 1992, after the All Blacks had been dumped out of the 1991 World Cup semifinal by Australia.
“I didn’t think I was good enough to lead the All Blacks,” he says. “In 1992 most of the guys got thrown out of the team because we were full of ourselves and we had to start again.
“You need to be arrogant to be successful, with a bit of humility, but we had taken that way o the field, and we got too big for ourselves, thought we were better than we were.
“We got beaten by Australia in 1991, and then Laurie Mains came along and quite rightly didn’t like the attitude in the team. I was one of the few left when it came to choosing a captain.”
Humility was the value Fitzpatrick restored to the All Blacks and the one that he instilled so deeply it remains a core tenet of the current side. And it was a di cult line to tread because on the field, Fitzy was fierce.
He would rile opponents, get himself in awkward positions, say a few things quietly in the scrum and impose himself in any way he could, yet he managed to retain respectful and e ective relations with referees and also spoke nothing but respectfully and kindly of his opponents after the game.
What he e ectively did was begin early the transition to the professional age without forgetting to take the core amateur values with him.
Under Fitzpatrick the All Blacks became more aware of their external shareholders and their obligations to present themselves well o the field. They were professional without being paid and when the game did actually ditch its amateur status, the All Blacks were able to make that transition to professionalism without a hitch.
They were already professional in their mindset, in their approach and their sense of duty to get the best out of themselves. Fitzpatrick had laid down that culture, so the only change between 1995 and 1996 was that the players’ bank accounts looked a lot healthier than they had been.
6 Bryan Williams [1970-1978] CAPS 38
‘BeeGee’ Williams’ meteor-like arrival on the rugby scene in South Africa in 1970 was one of the most significant developments from an individual in the second half of the twentieth century.
By the sheer brilliance he demonstrated playing on the wing as a 19-year-old, in a fashion rarely seen in the New Zealand game, he stimulated an appetite for back play that continues until today.
He scored 14 tries on the tour including a try on debut in the first test and another in the fourth.
Backs had become almost something of an oversight for New Zealand, but Williams, with his unparalleled speed, was too good to be placed in the straitjacket that had confined many other prospective attacking backs, and slowly but surely the shackles were unleashed.
He may never again have reached the heights he did in South Africa, the genie was out of the bottle after all, and he was closely marked for the remainder of his career, but the threat was always there, especially when centre Bruce Robertson emerged to complement the running skills of players like Williams, Grant Batty and Stu Wilson with his passing game. By the time his All Blacks career ended, Williams had scored 66 tries in all games, a record that stood until passed by John Kirwan who still remains atop the ladder on 67 tries.
His career looked to be over after he su ered a horrific injury dislocating his hip in the first test against France in 1977, but he recovered and played throughout 1978 against the touring Australians and on the Grand Slam tour of Britain and Ireland before his international career ended against the Barbarians.
Perhaps most significantly of all, Williams was the talisman for the emerging Pacific nations in the game.
One of the ‘honorary’ four who broke the barrier of whitesonly players in teams to South Africa, Williams was an emphatic advertisement against the strictures of apartheid in South Africa and an example to New Zealanders of the contribution players with Pacific Islands backgrounds could make to the New Zealand game.
He wasn’t the first player with a Pacific Islands background to play for New Zealand, but with immigration soaring during the 1960s and 1970s, he was an example for new generations of players who would make such an impact in the game when assimilated into New Zealand society.
But Williams’ contribution was not only on the field. Once retired from playing, he moved into coaching with his Ponsonby club before coaching Auckland B and then the Auckland side from 1987 in partnership with Maurice Trapp, in the second half of the Auckland team’s golden Ranfurly Shield era.
He extended his contact with Pacific Islands rugby when joining Western Samoa’s coaching team as technical director in 1991, the same season the Samoans exploded onto the world scene with their famous Rugby World Cup win over Wales. He became Samoa’s national coach in 1995.
Throughout it all he continued to serve on the Ponsonby club committee and was president of New Zealand Rugby in 2011-2012. He remains a regular fixture at the club while also a great supporter of the Barbarians Rugby Club.
Jonah Lomu may have made a great impact on the world stage when he plundered tries at the 1995 Rugby World Cup as the game headed into professionalism, but Bryan Williams had an impact of similar import on the smaller New Zealand stage in 1970 when delayed television coverage ushered his feats into homes for the first time on major tours.
5 Wayne Smith [1980-1985] CAPS 17
Wayne Smith’s association with the All Blacks began almost 40 years ago. He’s had an incredible involvement with the team, which began when he was selected as a first-five back in 1980 and will end in October when he retires from his role as technical director.
He jokes that he was never much of a player, but it’s not true. Smith may have been comparatively small but he played with huge heart and his head up to see the field.
He had an astute tactical brain, which allowed him to see the space on the field and manage the gameplan expertly. And it was that ability of his to understand rugby tactically which drew him to coaching. That and his natural skill to read human emotions and connect with his players.
While Smith was a good All Black whose contribution shouldn’t be undervalued, there is no doubt that it is as a coach where he has had the most i nfluence.
He was appointed head coach of the All Blacks in late 1999 after John Hart stood down following the World Cup exit to France. Smith, who had been at the helm of the Crusaders when they won the 1998 and 1999 Super Rugby titles, was a popular choice to take over.
He’d shown himself to not only have a real feel for where the game was heading tactically, but he was renowned for his empathetic and skilled handling of his athletes.
Smith was a man whose reputation for honesty preceded him. He told players what they needed to know rather than what they wanted to know, and he held himself responsible for upholding the highest personal standards.
Players related well to that – to his clear communication, to his exact specifications of what they needed to do, and his unfailingly honest appraisals of the team, the coaching sta and himself.
It was that honesty which saw him turn the spotlight on himself in 2001 when the All Blacks lost, for the second year in succession, a Bledisloe Cup test in the last minute.
He told the NZR board after that loss that he wasn’t sure if he was the right man for the job. Sensing his uncertainty they made the post contestable and in the end, Chiefs coach John Mitchell was appointed.
It could have been a disaster had that
THIS MAN THINKS ABOUT THE GAME LIKE NO ONE ELSE, AND HE’S CHANGED THE GAME WHEREVER HE’S GONE.’ STEVE TEW
been the end of Smith’s involvement with the All Blacks. But it wasn’t. He headed to Northampton and returned to New Zealand in 2004 as assistant coach with Steve Hansen to Graham Henry.
“This man thinks about the game like no one else, and he’s changed the game wherever he’s gone,” NZR chief executive Steve Tew said recently. “When Graham [Henry] turned up in 2004 and said my team will be Wayne Smith and Steve Hansen, that certainly captured my attention.”
In his new role as assistant Smith was able to get the best out of himself. He was able to use all of his skills to build the All Blacks’ attacking game and between 2004 and 2011 they played brilliant ball-in-hand football.
They took their attack game to new levels, but more importantly, the players began to live their lives to higher personal standards and many of them say they have Smith to thank for that.
The likes of Ma’a Nonu and Sonny Bill Williams say Smith has had an enormous influence on their respective careers and these are thoughts mirrored by many of their peers.
It came as no surprise then that Hansen pursued Smith relentlessly to re-join the All Blacks in 2015. Smith had taken a role with the Chiefs in 2012, but Hansen was determined to bring back his good friend for the World Cup. He felt the All Blacks would have a better chance of winning it if they could lure Smith into the role of technical director.
He finally accepted, initially on a oneyear deal.
“It’s been pretty good having Smithy back in the camp,” said hooker Keven Mealamu on the eve of the World Cup final.
“With guys understanding their roles, he’s been able to put some good systems in place for us.
“But it’s just been good having good old Smithy back. Wayne’s got a really good rapport with the players. He’s a very smart man. He sees a lot of things a player doesn’t usually pick up on and he’s great at getting his teaching across.
“It’s been really handy having him back. His attention to detail really adds to the coaching group we’ve had for the last couple of years.”
Given the role Smith played in tightening the All Blacks’ defence at the World Cup, Hansen was determined to keep him on and was able to persuade Smith to sign another two-year deal, which will end after the Rugby Championship.
“The hole will be big because this is a guy who is a massive contributor and is a great thinker of the game and, not only that, he’s a great mate so there is a lot of trust there,” said Hansen of the di cult job of replacing his long-time associate.
“I’ve been lucky to have spent a lot of time with Wayne Ross Smith over the years, firstly as a player being coached by him and, best of all, coaching alongside him with Canterbury, the Crusaders and the All Blacks.
“He’s a man I have a huge amount of respect for and it’s been an absolute pleasure working alongside him. However, it’s an even greater honour to be able to call him a mate.
“He has an unrelenting passion for the game, he’s always been innovative, prepared to speak his mind, and he’s never allowed himself to stop learning. He’s always been willing to share himself with others and be open to their ideas.
“Smithy has been a major contributor to not only New Zealand Rugby but also world rugby. Wayne has been such a wonderful ambassador for our game and our country as well.”
4 Daniel Carter [2003-2015] CAPS 110
Daniel Carter scored more than 1500 test points. It’s therefore hard to beat that kind of influence. Carter won the All Blacks a lot of games with his straight out ability to land pressure goals.
His technique was faultless. His temperament almost perfect and in 110 tests no one can recall Carter having a truly bad day at the office with his boot Not in the really big games anyway.
There were countless times when he would land a conversion from the touchline to push the All Blacks eight points ahead with time running out.
There were countless times he would land a long-range penalty to haul the All Blacks back into the game or wrestle the momentum back.
There was just a feeling with Carter that he was born to land pressure goals in the biggest games and he was never flustered, hurried or panicked.
But goal-kicking was only part of his game. He was a supremely good tactical manager. Probably the best the world game has known.
Carter knew where to attack, how to do it and how to destroy an opponent.
His game directing was incredible – Carter would put the All Blacks in the right place at the right time and knew, always knew, which strings to pull.
He was a tough and accurate defender, too. Not like the typical first-fives of the amateur era at all. Carter made his tackles and he made them well. He was brave, determined and faultless.
The icing on his cake was his running game. When he was in the mood, really on form, he could split any defence.
He had pace, agility and awareness and against the British & Irish Lions in 2005, he showed just how much. Carter scored 33 points in the second test in a performance many feel was the best produced by a No 10 in rugby history.
“As a young player pound for pound he had one of the best fends in the game,” reckons All Blacks coach Steve Hansen.
“He has a great boot and, as a defensive player, as a No 10, he has been one of the better ones. I can only think of a couple who would be up there with him – Jonny Wilkinson was a great defender.
“He’s a great reader of the game like [Stephen] Larkham and [Andrew] Mehrtens and Wilkinson, I guess. He’s been one of the best, if not the best of all time.”
It was the totality of the Carter package that was so influential. There had been first-fives before him who had incredible specialist skills, but none had the all-round brilliance to their game.
Carter was the first No 10 with everything. He had no weaknesses, no missing pieces and because of that he set new expectations about what coaches wanted from their first-fives.
No one wanted players with a weak part any more. It was no longer okay for a No 10 to think of himself as a runner, or as a game manager or as a kicker – he had to be all of those things.
If there was one final skill that defined Carter, it would be his tenacity. Between 2012 and 2014 he suffered a run of major injuries. He broke his leg, his hand, damaged a shoulder and a knee, and he never managed to play more than three tests in a row in that period.
He was written off by most critics, told he was tool old and broken to make a successful return and yet he finished 2015 as World Player of the Year.
AS A YOUNG PLAYER POUND FOR POUND HE HAD ONE OF THE BEST FENDS IN THE GAME.’ STEVE HANSEN
He won that because he was quite brilliant in the last three games of the tournament. He created tries, landed dropped goals and crucial kicks and controlled all three games expertly.
“He’s enhanced the jersey,” Hansen said. “When you start out as an All Black, that’s one of the greatest things you can do. When you can sit back and say you’ve improved it from when you first picked it up.
“In his position that’s a remarkable thing to do when you think about [Grant] Fox and [Earle] Kirton and [Andrew] Mehrtens and so forth. When those guys left they said we couldn’t replace them and a little fella from Southbridge has done that.
“He’s done it in a nice way. He’s a humble bloke and he’s added a new dimension to first-five. He’s brought tackling.
“The modern day first-five has to tackle now so that’s something that will be a legacy he’s left for all firstfives...he’s done it with a lot of courage, his goal kicking has been great and the other thing I admire is he’s gone through a bit of adversity in the last couple of years.
“He’s done everything in the game and it would have been easy to just walk away and say enough is enough, but he didn’t, he wanted to finish playing well and he’s done that.”
BY THE TIME HE HAD FINISHED PLAYING HE HAD AMASSED 361 GAMES, 55 OF THEM TESTS, FOR A TOTAL OF 133 ALL BLACKS APPEARANCES WHILE 139 OF THEM WERE FOR KING COUNTRY FOR WHOM HE PLAYED HIS LAST GAME IN 1972.’
3 Sir Colin Meads [1957-1971] CAPS 55
For 15 years Sir Colin Meads gave his heart, soul and a good deal more to New Zealand rugby on the field and earned the right to be adjudged the All Black of the Twentieth Century.
But his influence stretched well beyond his playing years and well beyond your usual rugby public o the field.
As a player who was sent from the field against Scotland in 1967, only the second All Black to be dismissed, he won the public’s sympathy due to the relative innocuousness of his o ence, and avoided becoming the recluse that the first player Cyril Brownlie, who was sent o against England in 1925, became.
Meads thought his career was over when his ordering o occurred, but it could be said it was only the beginning.
The French had already tried to diminish his influence during their test of 1967, the game before the Scotland test, when he was kicked in the head by lock Alain Plantefol leaving a gash that required 18 stitches.
But he returned to the action and the All Blacks won a game that many who played felt was their toughest game ever.
He was in his prime as a player in a forward pack that carried all before it through the late-1960s. Some of the rugby the All Blacks forwards played against the Five Nations champions from Wales in 1969 was the forerunner of the ball-in-hand play associated with modern day All Blacks forwards.
South Africans knew how influential he was on the field in 1970 and a South African boot, courtesy of captain Skip Henderson of the Eastern Transvaal side, threatened to end Meads’ tour when his arm was broken. It’s worth remembering that long-time All Blacks watcher and commentator Winston McCarthy claimed that in the five games he played in Africa before the injury, Meads produced the greatest rugby he had ever seen from a forward.
Instead of sending Meads out of the tour, the broken arm only added to his legend as he found an armguard which allowed him to resume playing, and he appeared in nine of the last 10 games on the tour. And when he got home the arm was still broken!
It didn’t matter that he was given the leadership of the inexperienced side that lost the 1971 series to the British & Irish Lions, still their only success in New Zealand, because he had put the country first in accepting the role. There were many who felt he was still capable of taking the 1972-73 team to Britain, Ireland and France, even after su ering a broken back in a motor accident earlier in 1972.
However, he wasn’t chosen and he became the first player to be feted by the NZRFU, as it was then called, when a President’s XV was assembled from around the world to play the All Blacks twice in 1973.
Of course, the President’s XV won the first ‘international’ although the New Zealanders in the side said they were most uncomfortable doing so.
By the time he had finished playing he had amassed 361 games, 55 of them tests, for a total of 133 All Blacks appearances while 139 of them were for King Country for whom he played his last game in 1972.
His try-scoring was also significant – crossing the line 81 times in his career and adding a conversion to finish with 253 career points.
Soon after retirement he began a fundraising connection with the Intellectually Handicapped Children organisation and made a significant contribution to the wellbeing of those involved.
And being the laconic speaker that he was he became a favourite to speak at rugby and sports dinners and lunches up and down the country, and around the rugby world.
He coached King Country for five years before giving up the role when taking on an All Blacks selectorship, although that only lasted a year when he travelled to South Africa with the rebel Cavaliers side in 1986. Unpopular as that was at the time, Meads was never handicapped by it and returned to win a place on the NZRFU Council from 1992-1996.
He managed the All Blacks to the Rugby World Cup in 1995 and famously put his stature in the game to use for the modern generation of players after their first test loss as professionals overseas against France in late 1995. The players who felt his wrath in a closed team session have never forgotten his words, and they won the second test.
Now he’s the subject of a bronze statue in his home town of Te Kuiti, the ultimate accolade, to go alongside those of life membership of New Zealand Rugby, a place in the International Rugby Hall of Fame, a knighthood and a trophy named the Meads Cup for the Heartland rugby competition, which was possibly the area of the game with which he most identified.
2 Richie McCaw [2001-2015] CAPS 148
Richie McCaw was by no means the most talented player in All Blacks history. He wasn’t the best athlete either and his natural ball skills were okay rather than stunning.
Yet he signed off in 2015 as the greatest All Black in history. He signed off having led the All Blacks to two World Cups and amassing a record 148 caps.
How he did it was through his unimaginable work rate. No one had a better attitude than McCaw. He woke up every day with a view that he would try to be better in everything he did.
He never stopped looking for ways to improve, never cut corners, never gave himself an easy out. He was also blessed with a one-in-a-million aerobic system.
McCaw could run and run. He had a phenomenal aerobic base that he had been building from the age of 10 when his dad had suggested that he might get more out of rugby if he was a bit fitter.
It was advice that hit home. McCaw took to running through the family farm most days and by the time he was in his mid-teens he had the capacity to go for 80 minutes at full noise.
It gave him the ability to get to places others couldn’t and to be influential from the first to last minute. His main skill was his ball poaching. He was superb at it – a natural seven if ever there was one.
His timing was instinctive, his technique immaculate and he was brave.
He was also driven like no other player. “When he first started he was brilliant at pinching ball [but] couldn’t catch, couldn’t pass and couldn’t run, but had a massive desire to be good,” says All Blacks coach Steve Hansen.
“And I don’t say that disrespectfully. I just want to point out that he was really good at something, but he wanted to be good at everything and through the whole time that I was lucky enough to be coaching him the first thing he would say at the beginning of every season was ‘what can I do better?’ And then he’d go away and work on it.”
McCaw’s record was incredible on every measurement imaginable, but best boiled down to this – in 148 tests he didn’t have a bad one. True.
And the All Blacks won 90 per cent of the games in which he played. Truly incredible and yet numbers alone don’t really get the story told of why he was so influential.
Every test the All Blacks’ opposition would build a strategy to counter the affect of McCaw. Their gameplan would be about trying to negate his influence. That’s why the Wallabies in 2015 came up with the twin openside policy.
They wanted to play Michael Hooper and David Pocock together to try to stop McCaw stealing so much of their ball.
His legend grew throughout his career and there were times in his final years when it felt like opposition teams were obsessed with him and the damage he could cause.
But perhaps more important what McCaw also did was drive a transition within the All Blacks. He changed the culture to one of ferocious and relentless professionalism.
McCaw and his senior players were adamant about everyone taking greater responsibility for performance. Adamant that everyone should be responsible for their own preparation and do all that they could to give the team the best chance of winning.
Relentless excellence – the sort McCaw produced – was underpinned by self-discipline and restraint. A whole generation of All Blacks came under McCaw’s spell and saw the rewards that awaited them if they took personal responsibility for all aspects of their lives.
He wasn’t puritanical but he was disciplined. He also managed to drive higher standards without becoming insular. The All Blacks of 2015 weren’t just world champions on the field, they were world champions off it, too.
In England, the All Blacks were engaging and accessible. Their ability to mix and mingle with fans, their desire to embrace opponents and generally uphold the sorts of values that made a nation proud, were apparent the whole tournament.
It was also apparent that the desire to be like that was driven from the top. The team became cast in McCaw’s mould. He set the standards and demanded that everyone else followed. And they did. Out of respect and admiration and also out of pride because McCaw made everyone feel special about the institution.
That’s his true legacy – how deeply ingrained and understood professionalism is now and what it means to be an All Black. The statistics he has racked up may in time be broken, but the culture he has helped create is highly likely to endure long after he’s gone.
“He’s a special man – humble,” said Hansen. “He’s an ordinary everyday bloke. Bright as hell but a bit boring at times. Richie is the best All Black we have ever had and Dan is a close second,” said Hansen. “The only thing that separates them is Richie has played 148 matches at flanker, which is unheard of – you put your body on the line every time you go there. The challenge for the other guys now is to try and become as great as him and Dan.” HE’S AN ORDINARY EVERYDAY BLOKE. BRIGHT AS HELL BUT A BIT BORING AT TIMES. RICHIE IS THE BEST ALL BLACK WE HAVE EVER HAD AND DAN IS A CLOSE SECOND.’ STEVE HANSEN
1 Jonah Lomu [1994-2002]
The All Blacks are a big, big brand. But Jonah Lomu might be bigger. Certainly outside of New Zealand the legend of Lomu was bigger than that of the All Blacks.
Kiwis would have experienced this phenomenon many times – of being in a foreign land, asked where they are from and once they say New Zealand hear the response “Ah Jonah Lomu”.
It was that way because Jonah was simply unforgettable. He changed rugby forever in 1995 – the year, maybe the only one of his adult life, when he wasn’t feeling the effects of his crippling kidney illness.
He owned that tournament. He was fit and he was sensational. He was 120kg of lean muscle, hungry for the ball and so capable once he got it.
There were games in that tournament when he was unstoppable. England found that out the hard way in the semifinal when Lomu scored four tries and humiliated them.
It was hard to remember in that game that in the England side were world class adult players. Hard because Lomu made them look like schoolboys and nowhere more memorably than in the first five minutes when he charged over England fullback Mike Catt and made him look like roadkill.
No one had seen anything like it before – a wing that size, with so much speed and power. And that he came to be on the wing, was down to the genius of All Blacks coach Laurie Mains and his fellow selector Earle Kirton.
“We saw this enormous talent and we said to ourselves if this guy plays against other forwards he’s just going to be another forward who occasionally might get an opportunity in the open to run with the ball,” recalls Mains.
“But he’s so fast and so talented and so big, where could we best use his talents? And we both agreed let’s try him on the wing. Here we had this huge man who was incredibly fast that all we needed to do was get the ball to him as quickly as possible without too many people out there marking him.
“The instructions for our backs were just get the ball to Jonah as fast as you can and back him up. We knew we had something very special on our hands. What we knew was two things – we had to get him fit and we had to be prepared to play a style of rugby that gave him opportunities to use this great talent that he had.
“Jonah, I always regarded as the gentle giant and he was a guy that would talk to anyone and help anyone he came across that needed help.”
Legend has it that it was during that game against England that media mogul Rupert Murdoch decided he had to buy the broadcast rights to rugby. He knew Lomu was an athlete who people were going to want to watch and that he had to get his hands on the rights. And he was right about Lomu.
He became a massive star on the back of that World Cup campaign. Everyone wanted a piece of him – even US comedian Robin Williams was eager to meet him – and the offers came in from league clubs, other rugby teams and even the NFL.
But Lomu wasn’t interested in any of that. All he wanted to be was an All Black. That was his dream and he stayed true to it. And nor did all the fame change him.
He remained grounded, true to himself and the most humble, down to earth person anyone could imagine.
The fact he refused to see himself as a star was a big factor in why he was such a star as there was so much peer respect for him. Just how much became apparent when he died in late 2015.
Two of the more memorable tributes came from former Wallaby Peter Fitzsimons who wrote in the Sydney
Morning Herald “I always fancied, somehow, that however much Lomu was revered in New Zealand, still we loved him more in Australia.
“Not just for his ability, but for his humility. He was a man who had every right to swagger, but never did. It seemed odd, and not right, that such a force of nature should suffer from a debilitating kidney disease, but he never complained of it. He just got on with it.
“It seems now, downright wrong, that one such as he should die so young.
“It was the Catt try, however, that remained one of rugby’s most famous and significant moments. Watching the match from London, Rupert Murdoch turned to his lieutenant Sam Chisholm, and said, ‘I have to have that player.’ Murdoch’s commitment to professionalising rugby was stronger than ever, and would commit US$555 million to doing exactly that.”
And the other was from his All Blacks teammate Zinzan Brooke who said “Only a handful of athletes have changed the face of a sport – Tiger Woods in golf, Michael Jordan in basketball, Pele in football. Jonah belongs in that bracket.
“He revolutionised rugby and transformed the way rugby was perceived and consumed. We used to say that once he got the ball and had broken past the first defender then we could safely run back to halfway even though he had another 25 metres and another six guys to run through.
“Off the field, he embraced his responsibility of being a global superstar without ever letting it go to his head. He just saw himself as a cog in a bigger machine and he never once put himself as an individual before the team.”
HE REVOLUTIONISED RUGBY AND TRANSFORMED THE WAY RUGBY WAS PERCEIVED AND CONSUMED.’ ZINZAN BROOKE
INTENSITY Buck Shelford would have to be one of the toughest and most driven All Blacks in history, which is why New Zealanders loved him.
WISE OLD HEAD Brian Lochore was an inspirational captain, successful coach and astute selector.
LEADING THE WAY Sean Fitzpatrick brought professional attitudes to the All Blacks ahead of time.
GAME CHANGER Bryan Williams opened the All Blacks’ eyes to what they could achieve by giving the ball to the backs.
LONG WALK TO FREEDOM Wayne Smith has been associated with the All Blacks one way or another since 1980.
NEW BREED Colin Meads played with energy and athleticism as well as a genuine edge.
PEOPLE’S CHOICE Richie McCaw would be one of the most popular All Blacks in history.
BIG BRAND Jonah Lomu was bigger than the All Blacks.