New Zealand, known for its rugby prowess, has consistently produced some of the world’s greatest flankers. These dynamic players have not only contributed to the rich legacy of the All Blacks but have also achieved international acclaim. In this article, we delve into the careers of five of the best New Zealand flankers of all time, highlighting their achievements, backgrounds, physical attributes, career statistics, and what made them truly special.
1. Richie McCaw: The Captain Fantastic
Achievements: Richie McCaw is widely regarded as one of the greatest rugby players of all time. As the most capped All Black, he earned 148 test caps during his illustrious career. McCaw was the first rugby player to win 100 test matches and was the captain of the All Blacks for much of his tenure. Under his leadership, New Zealand claimed two Rugby World Cups (2011 and 2015).
Background and Physical Stats: Born in Oamaru, New Zealand, in 1980, McCaw’s journey to rugby stardom began at an early age. Standing at 6 feet 2 inches (188 cm) and weighing around 107 kg (236 lbs), he possessed remarkable speed and agility. McCaw was renowned for his incredible work rate, ferocious tackling, and unrivaled ability at the breakdown.
Career Stats and What Made Him Special: Richie McCaw’s career statistics are a testament to his excellence: multiple Rugby World Cup wins, numerous Tri-Nations and Rugby Championship titles, and countless awards, including three World Rugby Player of the Year awards. What made him special was his ability to adapt his game, his tireless commitment to the team’s success, and his innate understanding of the sport. His leadership and competitive spirit set a standard that few have matched.
2. Michael Jones: The “Iceman”
Achievements: Michael Jones, often referred to as “Iceman” for his cool composure on the field, was a pivotal figure in New Zealand rugby during the late 1980s and early 1990s. He earned 55 caps for the All Blacks and was a crucial part of the team’s 1987 Rugby World Cup victory. Jones was known for his unwavering commitment to his Christian faith and his sportsmanship.
Background and Physical Stats: Born in Auckland, New Zealand, in 1965, Michael Jones was a versatile athlete who excelled in multiple sports. Standing at 6 feet 2 inches (188 cm) and weighing around 102 kg (225 lbs), he had the physicality to dominate as a flanker. His distinctive feature was his blazing speed, which was rare for a forward.
Career Stats and What Made Him Special: Michael Jones was not only a phenomenal flanker but also a trailblazer for his era. He was known for his incredible speed across the field and his ability to link up with the backline seamlessly. His role as a true openside flanker was characterized by his ball-winning prowess at the breakdown and his outstanding defensive skills. What made him special was his humility, sportsmanship, and unwavering dedication to his beliefs, all of which contributed to his legendary status in New Zealand rugby.
3. Zinzan Brooke: The Versatile Back Row Maestro
Achievements: Zinzan Brooke was a versatile back row forward who made a significant impact on New Zealand rugby. He earned 58 caps for the All Blacks and was a key figure in the team’s Rugby World Cup campaigns in 1991 and 1995. Brooke was renowned for his versatility, as he could play at both flanker and number eight positions with equal skill.
Background and Physical Stats: Born in Waiuku, New Zealand, in 1965, Zinzan Brooke was a multi-talented athlete from a young age. Standing at 6 feet 4 inches (193 cm) and weighing around 111 kg (245 lbs), he possessed the size and strength required for his positions. Brooke’s unique physical attribute was his exceptional ability to execute long-range drop goals, a skill rarely seen in a forward.
Career Stats and What Made Him Special: Zinzan Brooke’s career was marked by consistency and versatility. He was known for his deft handling, powerful running, and tactical astuteness. What made him special was his ability to contribute to all facets of the game, whether it was winning lineouts, making crucial tackles, or executing precision kicks. His impact in both loose play and set pieces made him an invaluable asset for the All Blacks and a memorable figure in New Zealand rugby history.
4. Josh Kronfeld: The “Flaxman”
Achievements: Josh Kronfeld, affectionately known as the “Flaxman,” was a dynamic flanker who earned 54 caps for the All Blacks. He was an integral part of the team during the mid-1990s and early 2000s, contributing to the success of the All Blacks in various international competitions.
Background and Physical Stats: Born in Hastings, New Zealand, in 1971, Josh Kronfeld displayed his rugby talent from a young age. Standing at 6 feet 3 inches (191 cm) and weighing around 101 kg (223 lbs), he possessed a unique blend of size and speed. Kronfeld was known for his aggressive ball-carrying ability and his relentless work at the breakdown.
Career Stats and What Made Him Special: Josh Kronfeld’s ability to cover ground quickly and his knack for securing turnovers at the breakdown made him a standout flanker. He was known for his tremendous work rate, often appearing all over the field. What made him special was his physicality and his ability to disrupt opposition play. Kronfeld’s contributions to the All Blacks were pivotal during his international career.
5. Jerry Collins: The Enforcer
Achievements: Jerry Collins, known as “The Terminator” for his intimidating physicality on the field, earned 48 caps for the All Blacks during his career. He was a ferocious defender and a key figure in the team’s forward pack. Collins represented New Zealand in two Rugby World Cups (2003 and 2007).
Background and Physical Stats: Born in Apia, Samoa, in 1980, Jerry Collins moved to New Zealand at a young age and quickly made a name for himself in rugby. Standing at 6 feet 5 inches (196 cm) and weighing around 115 kg (253 lbs), he was a formidable presence on the field. Collins was known for his bone-crunching tackles and his ability to dominate in close-quarters play.
Career Stats and What Made Him Special: Jerry Collins’ reputation as an enforcer in the All Blacks’ forward pack was well-deserved. He was known for his relentless physicality, his ball-carrying ability, and his uncompromising defense. What made him special was his ability to strike fear into opponents and his unwavering commitment to the team’s success. Collins’ no-nonsense approach to the game made him a beloved figure among rugby fans.
These legendary New Zealand flankers have left an indelible mark on the world of rugby. Their remarkable achievements, unique physical attributes, and unwavering dedication to the All Blacks have solidified their places among the greatest flankers in the sport’s history.