While the power players like Jonah Lomu, Julian Savea and George North are rightfully revered for their ability to clear bodies from their windscreens, the twinkle-toed quicksteppers that slice through gaps leaving defenders sprawled in yoga poses can be just as thrilling.
Here’s a quick guide to the magicians with the finest sidesteps in modern rugby history.
‘Billy the Whiz’ may have been the quickest man in rugby, and his blinding pace was complemented with a sidestep which was not as outrageous as others on this list, but was all he needed to do, a simple, instant reorientation of body toward open space. And once he whirred clear of defenders, no one could run him down.
Cullen was a freak of nature in a team (Jonah Lomu, Jeff Wilson et al.) of All Black X Men. The greatest running fullback in history was smooth, silky and at his peak, unstoppable. Brian Ashton, former coach of Ireland best summed up the task of stopping Cullen: “Cullen can run riot. His game has changed even in the two years since he exploded on to the scene. He’s more dynamic. His power, pace and elusive footwork make him ideal for modern rugby. Pound for pound he’s more powerful than anybody I’ve ever seen. When he runs at defenders he either glides past them or bounces off them. It’s almost as if tacklers don’t exist to him. He has a remarkable inner belief and his body language says I’m an All Black and I’m going to score.” (via The Independent)
‘Campo’ was the ultimate showman. With tricks as slick as his hairstyle, he taunted the opposition, daring them to commit to a tackle, knowing that when the head lowered, there was less chance to adjust to changes in pace. Campo and his chip kicks, sidesteps and goosestep revolutionised rugby and was the closest player to Muhammed Ali rugby has had.
Former Irish five-eighth Tony Ward double-downed the effusive:
- “He (Campese) is the Maradona, the Pelé of international Rugby all rolled into one. You cannot put a value on his importance to our game. He is a breath of fresh air and I think perhaps the greatest player of all time.” (via wikipedia)
A player whose legend lives on in player anecdotes. Scotland international Chris Paterson said of Caucaunibuca that “when he is fit, (he) can be the world’s best player” and that he “is the type who can win a game almost on his own.” England international centre Mike Tindall describes him as “the best player I have ever played against.” With the blinding speed of Robinson, the swerve of Cullen and the sidesteps and skills of Campese, for all too brief a moment, CauCau – at peak fitness – was the complete winger. (via wikipedia)
Williams, like the final two names on this list, seemed to operate below the treeline in the rugby jungle, applying different laws of physics with his lower centre of gravity. His ability to turn on a dime, dynamic acceleration and opportunistic verve led to fifty eight tries for Wales.
Generation next: Nehe Milner-Scudder & Damian McKenzie
NMS set the 2015 World Cup alight with his cha cha cha sidesteps, which befuddled defenders and had commentators crowing that in an age of gym-constructed Orcs, magical hobbits like Milner-Scudder could still survive and thrive.
At 1.77 m and 81kg, Damian McKenzie is even smaller than Milner-Scudder and zigs, zaps and zags around the rugby pitch like a furious, multi-skilled, fire fly. If D-Mc and NMS ever combine in an All Blacks team, new peaks in swerving, passing and trickery may be reached.
Kaal Kaczmarek, Pundit Arena