In the world of rugby, tackling is an art form, a skill that separates the great from the good. The ability to bring down opponents with precision, power, and tenacity is a hallmark of exceptional rugby players. In this article, we pay tribute to the 10 best rugby tacklers of all time, examining their techniques, career statistics, defining moments, and the qualities that made them stand out on the field.
- Richie McCaw
Career Stats: Richie McCaw, the iconic former New Zealand All Blacks captain, is not only one of the most decorated players in rugby history but also one of the most tenacious tacklers. McCaw’s career includes 148 test match appearances, numerous Tri-Nations/Rugby Championship titles, and two Rugby World Cup victories. His defensive stats are as impressive as his accolades, with countless try-saving tackles and turnovers won.
Tackling Technique: McCaw’s tackling technique was a masterclass in precision and timing. He had an uncanny ability to read the game, anticipate the ball carrier’s movements, and execute a textbook tackle with a low, wrap-around technique.
Defining Moment: One defining moment in McCaw’s career was his performance in the 2011 Rugby World Cup final. His relentless tackling and breakdown work played a pivotal role in New Zealand’s victory on home soil.
What Made Him Special: McCaw’s incredible work rate, mental toughness, and ability to consistently make crucial tackles set him apart as one of the greatest rugby players of all time.
- Jonny Wilkinson
Career Stats: Jonny Wilkinson is renowned for his flawless goal-kicking, but his defensive prowess should not be overlooked. The English fly-half accumulated 91 test caps and played a crucial role in England’s 2003 Rugby World Cup victory. He made numerous try-saving tackles and put his body on the line in defense.
Tackling Technique: Wilkinson’s tackling technique was characterized by his unwavering commitment. Despite his smaller stature for a rugby player, he was fearless in making tackles, often targeting the legs of larger opponents to bring them down effectively.
Defining Moment: One of Wilkinson’s most memorable defensive moments was his crucial tackle on Wallabies winger Joe Roff during the 2003 World Cup final, preventing a certain try.
What Made Him Special: Wilkinson’s dedication to his craft and his relentless pursuit of excellence, whether in attack or defense, made him a complete rugby player.
- Brian O’Driscoll
Career Stats: Brian O’Driscoll, the Irish rugby legend, was not only a prolific try-scorer but also a formidable tackler. He earned 133 test caps and represented the British and Irish Lions on multiple occasions, including as captain.
Tackling Technique: O’Driscoll’s tackling technique was characterized by his agility and ability to read the game. He often made try-saving tackles by anticipating the opponent’s movements and using his speed to close down space.
Defining Moment: One of O’Driscoll’s defining moments in defense was his heroic tackle on Chris Oti in the famous “Hand of Back” match in 2001, where he prevented a certain try with a last-ditch effort.
What Made Him Special: O’Driscoll’s combination of attacking flair and defensive tenacity made him one of the most well-rounded rugby players in history.
- George Smith
Career Stats: George Smith, the Australian openside flanker, was renowned for his prowess at the breakdown and his tenacious tackling. He earned 111 test caps for the Wallabies and became one of the best flankers of his generation.
Tackling Technique: Smith’s tackling technique was characterized by his low body position and exceptional strength. He was known for his ability to win turnovers and disrupt opposition attacks with his dominant tackles.
Defining Moment: A defining moment in Smith’s career was his performance in the 2003 Rugby World Cup final, where he made a significant impact in both defense and attack.
What Made Him Special: Smith’s ability to dominate the breakdown and consistently make game-changing tackles made him a crucial asset for any team he played for.
- Schalk Burger
Career Stats: Schalk Burger, the South African flanker, was a relentless tackler and a key figure in the Springboks’ successes. He earned 86 test caps and played a crucial role in South Africa’s 2007 Rugby World Cup victory.
Tackling Technique: Burger’s tackling technique was characterized by his physicality and aggression. He was not afraid to put his body on the line and deliver bone-crushing tackles that disrupted opposition attacks.
Defining Moment: One of Burger’s defining moments was his performance in the 2007 World Cup final, where his ferocious tackling set the tone for South Africa’s victory.
What Made Him Special: Burger’s unmatched physicality and his ability to intimidate opponents with his tackling made him one of the most feared defenders in the game.
- Alun Wyn Jones
Career Stats: Alun Wyn Jones, the Welsh lock, is known for his work rate and consistency in defense. He has earned over 160 test caps and is regarded as one of the greatest locks in rugby history.
Tackling Technique: Jones’s tackling technique is characterized by his durability and ability to make crucial tackles throughout a game. He often leads his team in tackle counts, showcasing his defensive leadership.
Defining Moment: A defining moment in Jones’s career was his leadership in the 2019 Six Nations, where he played a pivotal role in Wales’ Grand Slam victory.
What Made Him Special: Jones’s work rate, resilience, and leadership qualities have made him one of the most respected defenders in modern rugby.
- David Pocock
Career Stats: David Pocock, the Australian openside flanker, is renowned for his turnover abilities and relentless tackling. He earned 83 test caps and was a key player for the Wallabies.
Tackling Technique: Pocock’s tackling technique was characterized by his ability to win turnovers at the breakdown. He combined his strength and speed to disrupt opposition ball and make crucial tackles.
Defining Moment: Pocock’s defining moment came in the 2011 Rugby World Cup, where his exceptional tackling and breakdown work earned him widespread recognition.
What Made Him Special: Pocock’s unique ability to win turnovers and his commitment to his defensive duties set him apart as one of the best defenders in the modern game.
- Jerome Kaino
Career Stats: Jerome Kaino, the New Zealand flanker, was a powerful and versatile defender. He earned 81 test caps and played a crucial role in the All Blacks’ successes.
Tackling Technique: Kaino’s tackling technique was characterized by his physicality and ability to make big hits. He was a dominant force in the defensive line and often disrupted opposition attacks.
Defining Moment: One of Kaino’s defining moments was his performance in the 2011 Rugby World Cup final, where he played a crucial role in New Zealand’s victory.
What Made Him Special: Kaino’s strength, versatility, and ability to make impactful tackles in key moments made him a standout defender in world rugby.
- Sam Warburton
Career Stats: Sam Warburton, the Welsh openside flanker, was known for his work rate and defensive abilities. He earned 74 test caps and captained the British and Irish Lions.
Tackling Technique: Warburton’s tackling technique was characterized by his relentless work rate and ability to win turnovers at the breakdown. He often led his team in tackles made and turnovers won.
Defining Moment: Warburton’s defining moment came as he led the British and Irish Lions to a series draw against New Zealand in 2017, showcasing his leadership and defensive prowess.
What Made Him Special: Warburton’s dedication, leadership, and his ability to excel in both defense and attack made him a well-rounded and influential player.
- Thierry Dusautoir
Career Stats: Thierry Dusautoir, the French openside flanker, was a dominant defender and leader on the field. He earned 80 test caps and captained the French national team.
Tackling Technique: Dusautoir’s tackling technique was characterized by his determination and ability to make crucial tackles. He often led his team in defensive efforts, setting an example for his teammates.
Defining Moment: Dusautoir’s defining moment came in the 2007 Rugby World Cup semi-final against New Zealand, where he made a remarkable 38 tackles, helping France secure an upset victory.
What Made Him Special: Dusautoir’s leadership, work rate, and his ability to make an extraordinary number of tackles in high-pressure situations established him as one of the best defenders in rugby history.
The 10 best rugby tacklers of all time have left an indelible mark on the sport, not only for their ability to bring down opponents but also for their leadership qualities, work ethic, and dedication to the game. From Richie McCaw’s unmatched consistency to David Pocock’s turnover prowess, these players have shown that defense is as vital as attack in the world of rugby. Their unique qualities and defining moments have cemented their places in the annals of rugby history, serving as inspirations to future generations of rugby players.