Who is the best RWC player of all time?

Following on from the battle of the fly halves piece, which concluded that Wilkinson has already earned legendary status in world cup folklore whereas Carter still seeks it, which other World Cup greats deserve to be mentioned as potentially the best player in the tournament’s history? Who are the contenders for the World Cup Hall of Fame?


It is my contention that in the modern, and especially the professional, era a player must have been part of a World Cup-winning team in order to qualify for greatness. This will cause some controversy, automatically ruling out obvious contenders such as Jonah Lomu, the ‘freak’ who certainly had the most significant individual impact on any World Cup, or indeed rugby as a whole. If the pantheon of true greatness is to be restricted to those with winners’ medals then the list must include those who have lifted the trophy for their team. David Kirk, Nick Farr-Jones, Francois Pienaar, John Eales and, of course, Martin Johnson. They were all fantastic players and they have all been further elevated to some degree by their team’s success in the global competition. Australia, with three finals and two victories, are the most successful team from the five tournaments to date and, to my knowledge, John Eales is the only player who can boast two winners’ medals. New Zealand, France and England are the other teams to have competed in two finals, with Sean Fitzpatrick, Jason Leonard, George Gregan and Stephen Larkham four players who have also featured in two finals.


There are a number of players experiencing their fourth world cup at this year’s competition, Os du Randt, Gregan, Gareth Thomas, Mike Catt, Rod Snow, Alessandro Troncon and Agustin Pichot joining Leonard and Gareth Rees on this fabulous achievement. The pick of these must be du Randt and Leonard, solely for having endured 16+ years of international rugby in the unforgiving land of the front row. However, for longevity the outright winner after his (less than memorable) appearance this year is the Samoan ‘chiropracter’, Brian Lima, having now represented his country in a remarkable five world cups. It can also be added that, as impressive as these feats all are, it may be somewhat of an indictment of that particular country’s ability to produce players of quality, at least in that position. It’s worth noting that no Kiwi features more than three times, Fitzpatrick, Andrew Mehrtens and Byron Kelleher their most noteworthy World Cup veterans with three appearances apiece.

Match Winners

With 227 from three tournaments, Gavin Hastings still holds the record for total number of points scored, and Jonah’s 15 tries comfortably tops the all-time list. Clearly, judging the best of all time depends on your perspective and criteria and in a few weeks we will surely have some more names to add to the mixer. Jonny’s already in there, Carter has yet to join him. The names listed above are all frontrunners for this accolade, but it is by no means exhaustive. This is obviously an emotive subject so get your opinions and comments posted on both Dan vs Jonny and also the leading RWC player. Sir Jonny gets my vote on both counts…!

By Rob Douglas

7 thoughts on “Who is the best RWC player of all time?

  1. Much as I hate to admit it, watching copious amounts of ‘best RWC moment’ and ‘my memories of the RWC’ shows over the past few weeks (please don’t let it end), it shows the impact that Campese had on at least 2 world cups. Phenomenal tries, austentacious side-steps, and last-ditch defending (anyone remember the 1991 Final ‘hand-of-gob’ (deliberate) knock-on?).

    He would be up there with my vote as best RWC player of all time (with nationalistic pride also placing Martin Johnson alongside). Thank god the lippy bloke finally got his come-uppance walking down Oxford Street clad in an ‘I admit, the best team won’ placard.

    Well he’s right. They did.

  2. ‘a player must have been part of a World Cup-winning team in order to qualify for greatness.’

    Gonna have to disagree with you there Robin. Given that rugby is the ultimate team game, a player can have a huge impact on a World Cup without winning it.

    If NZ hadn’t used him so poorly in the 1995 WC final by sending him through the middle at Japie Mulder all day, then Lomu would have been a World Cup winner. I don’t think anyone has had the impact on rugby in recent times that he has, especially not on World Cups.

    Lomu has had the biggest impact but I don’t think he is the best player. Jonny has a claim but he was dropped from the side during 1999 and struggled in the pool stages in 03 (although he was awesome in the knockouts). Despite my earlier point I think John Eales and Tim Horan are worthy of discussion as they not only won it twice but were 2 stand-out players on both occasions which takes some doing.

    Sadly the guy who I think is the best player of the last 15-20 years never really did it at a World Cup. Christian Cullen was unbelievable at his peak as a full back but he only played in one World Cup and NZ ridiculously played him at 13. I honestly think if he’d been used correctly in that tournament then NZ would have won – he was that good.

  3. Disagree all you like Lid my old chum, sparking a debate was kind of the point of the whole thing. However, I stand by my assertion: just as history is written by the winners, so history remember the winners.

    It’s very sad but this will obviously rule out phenomenal players like Serge Blanco (never did) and Brian O’Dricoll (never will – sorrry Paddies) amongst many others. The question is not who could have been the best player, nor even who was the best player of the last 20 years but which individual has dominated one or more World Cup more than any other (and won!).

    p.s. No need to ‘quote’ the article old boy, just scroll up!

  4. Hopelessly late in posting this as the debate is well and truly over now. However, I agree that someone like Lomu should be classed as a great.

    Granted, winning is a big part of it and for anyone to be called a great without winning it, they’d have to be a pretty exceptional player, which he certainly was – I can’t think of anyone else worthy of being called a great who’s not won it. He’s the exception that proves the rule for me.

    One thing I was wondering though is this. I would say that Dallaglio is also a great as he not only won it but played every minute of every game on his way to winning it – has anyone else ever done this?

    It’s quite possible that it might have happened in one of the early RWCs as tactical replacements weren’t allowed then and teams would generally put out their best available team.

    One player who certainly didn’t match Dallaglio’s feat is Michael Jones who missed a Sunday game for religious reasons, but I think it’s safe to say that he was a true great anyway.

    Even if it has been done before, I still think it was commendable of Lol to achieve this in the days of impact replacements. So, are there any stats gurus amongst you who know?

  5. Restricting the choice to players that have been part of a World Cup-winning team is complete nonsense. I see no logical reason to do that. The best player can be surrounded by a bunch of mediocre players (with the obvious result of not winning the tournament).

  6. You are simply confusing yourself between the best player and the best team at the world cup. The player who has had the greatest impact is without question Jonah Lomu. Is he the best player debatable but I cannot recall any player who has so dominated the thinking of opposing teams and coaches as Lomu did in 1995. He destroyed England with an individual contribution that is unlikely ever to be matched again.

    So given your initial premise is so flawed you set yourself up for failure.

    Wilkinson was very good but too injury prone to be classed as truely great. in terms of a player who would make most peoples selection of the greatest professional era 15 Wilkinson is no dead cert as he has been so comprehensively outplayed by Carter in 2005 and since.

    If I was to pick a RWC winning best player it would be a toss up between Michael Jones of NZ and David Campese of Australia with Campese nudging it

Comments are closed.