In New Zealand, rugby is renowned for being more than just a sport. To be honest, many see it as a religion and the sport’s most ardent supporters see it as even greater than that.
Without a doubt, rugby union is the most popular sport in New Zealand and the All Blacks are among the biggest icons and figures in the country, especially those who have joined the Rugby World Cup winners list.
Greatest All Blacks Players In Rugby History:
Wayne 'Buck' Shelford
Growing up in New Zealand, you want to be a rugby player. However, only the select few can make it and represent the All Blacks. Many athletes have donned the famous jersey but who are the greatest rugby players of all time?
Here, we’ve tried to narrow it down and have come up with five players who will be forever remembered as all-time greats of the game. So without further ado, here are our five best All Blacks players…
5) Colin Meads
Colin Meads, often known as "pine tree," won 55 caps and led New Zealand as captain 11 times. Over the course of his 14-year international career, he scored 21 points.
He was a formidable opponent and only the second All Black to be dismissed for allegedly dangerous play in history in 1967. 1971 saw the end of his international career after he was involved in a car accident.
He continued to play by serving in administrative and coaching capacities and then featured in Rugby World Cup predictions while serving as the All Blacks' coach for the 1995 tournament.
In addition to being named a member of the World Rugby Hall of Fame and player of the century in 1999, he also won other accolades and medals throughout his lifetime, including being knighted in 2009.
Sadly, he passed away in 2017 after a year-long fight with pancreatic cancer. Ask fans of his era and he will often be mentioned as the greatest ever All Black.
4) Wayne ‘Buck’ Shelford
Wayne "Buck" Shelford was a renowned athlete and a fighter when it came to representing New Zealand, although he received a rather underwhelming 22 All Blacks caps.
He is often remembered for his role in the 1986 Test series in France, with Shelford taking an absolute battering in the second match of the series. Known as the “Battle of Nantes”, the New Zealand star suffered a concussion, a torn scrotum and lost four teeth!
Serving as the team’s captain several times, Shelford is perhaps best known for transforming the All Blacks ‘Haka’ routine into the revered Māori pre-match ritual that it is today.
Adored by the rugby community across the globe, he received a knighthood for his services to the sport in 2021. There are few better ambassadors to New Zealand he deserves to be recognised as one of the best All Blacks players.
3) Richie McCaw
There will be many who believe that Richie McCaw deserves top spot on this list and to be fair you could make a very good argument for the legendary flanker.
In terms of ticking boxes, you’d be hard pressed to find a more accomplished player than McCaw. He set the bar for so many players, leading by example and taking charge of one of the greatest back rows to play the game.
New Zealand sat at the top of world rugby rankings during his time at the helm and he led the nation to back-to-back Rugby World Cup triumphs in 2011 and 2015. That in itself puts him in the conversation to be recognised as the greatest New Zealand rugby player.
He ended his career with 148 caps and three International Rugby Board Player of the Year awards. In 2019, he was inducted into the World Rugby Hall of Fame. He is well worth his status as one of the best All Blacks rugby stars.
2) Dan Carter
While the All Blacks have had plenty of outstanding number 10s throughout their nation’s illustrious history, few can match Dan Carter – arguably the greatest fly-half of all time.
Carter had a unique ability to impact rugby betting odds, making important plays on both sides of the ball. His quick-thinking, his distribution, his strength and his discipline gave him the edge on his peers.
He single-handedly destroyed the British and Irish Lions in the second Test match in 2005 and that really cemented his status as New Zealand’s brightest star at the time. And boy, did he live up to the hype.
In 112 caps for the All Blacks, Carter scored 1598 points – currently the global record for most points scored by a rugby union player. His career was sadly plagued by injury and he missed the 2011 Rugby World Cup final, though New Zealand still emerged victorious.
Undoubtedly the player of his generation, Dan Carter deserves his spot amongst not only the greatest New Zealand rugby players but the greatest ever in the history of the sport.
1) Jonah Lomu
Famously labelled a “freak” by England captain Will Carling in 1995, Jonah Lomu takes top spot in our list of the greatest New Zealand rugby players of all-time.
If you were building a rugby player in the laboratory, Lomu is what you’d come up with. He was tall, he was strong and he was quick – the perfect mix for an explosive winger.
His try-scoring record was astonishing, with Lomu scoring 37 tries in 63 appearances for the All Blacks. He was deadly, whether receiving the ball a metre from the try line or in his own half.
Loved by New Zealand rugby fans and respected by supporters around the world, he was one of those players who could’ve played in almost any of the rugby union positions.
He played for clubs and provinces in France, Wales and New Zealand and his impact on the world of rugby will never be forgotten. He tragically lost his life shortly after the 2015 Rugby World Cup after suffering a heart attack but Lomu’s legacy will live on for eternity.