At the heart of every good team is a fantastic captain and there have been some truly great leaders in rugby over the years. We decided to put together a XV made up of the most successful captains in the history of rugby union.
1) Wilson Whineray (22 wins)
As a player, Sir Wilson Whineray played 32 tests for the All Blacks, but as a captain he won 22 of those tests, including three tests during the 1959 Lions tour and four wins over Australia in 1962. He first captained the team at the age of only 23 in 1958 against Australia and was the first New Zealander to be inducted into the IRB Hall of Fame.
Scotland’s David Sole is another notable loosehead captain, winning 14 games whilst leading his nation.
2) John Smit (54 wins)
There have been a number of outstanding captains at hooker, including New Zealand’s legendary Sean Fitzpatrick (39 wins) and France’s Raphael Ibanez (26 wins), but South Africa’s Smit leads the way with more than 50 wins throughout his time as Springboks captain. Most notably, he led his team to the 2007 Rugby World Cup trophy
3) Peter Fatialofa (11 wins)
There haven’t been many tighthead captains, but Samoa’s Fatialofa is the most successful of them. He most notably captained his country to the famous win over Wales in Cardiff at the 1991 Rugby World Cup. England’s Phil Vickery is next on the list, captaining his country to ten victories.
4) Martin Johnson (37 wins)
As both and England and Lions captain, Martin Johnson was an imperious leader and it was his skills as a captain that eventually led to the RFU appointmenting him as the manager of the national team in 2008. During his playing career he was at the forefront of England’s 2003 World Cup win, as well as in wins over New Zealand, Australia and South Africa and the grand slam triumph also in 2003.
5) John Eales (41 wins)
Legend has it that Eales was nicknamed ‘Nobody’ as ‘Nobody is perfect’ and as a captain Eales was one of the best. He led his country to glory at the 1999 Rugby World Cup and a Lions series win in 2001, as well as beating every major nation in the world.
France second row Fabien Pelous trails both Johnson and Eales on 27 wins.
6) Thierry Dusautoir – 26 wins
Okay, so Dusautoir is really an openside, but he needed to be included in this team for having one of the best winning totals of any back rower in the world. As well as leading Les Bleus to a famous win over the All Blacks in Dunedin in 2009, the French back rower will always be known for his fantastic performance in the 2011 Rugby World Cup final that saw France get within a whisker of winning a World Cup title against hosts New Zealand despite losing to the same team and minnows Tonga in the pool stages.
Romania’s Mihai Macovei led his country to 24 wins, but interestingly enough Chris Robshaw is the fourteenth most successful captain in test rugby history – leading his country to 25 wins. Perhaps his critics should think again regarding his reign as England captain?
7) Richie McCaw (97 wins)
No surprise here. McCaw is officially the most successful captain in the history of rugby, winning a truly awe-inspiring 97 games. That’s over forty more victories than his nearest rival John Smit. McCaw is the only captain to have led a team to two World Cup titles, but he also helps clean the changing room after the game such is the humble nature of the man. He will be remembered as one of the sport’s greatest players, but should also go down as its greatest captain.
Wales captain Sam Warburton, one of the world’s best opensides, currently stands on 23 wins.
8) Gary Teichmann (26 wins)
In his 42 games as a Springbok Teichmann led the national side to 26 wins, including a 17-test consecutive running streak that was ended by a loss to England in 1998. As a part of that run, they won the Tri-Nations undefeated including a 61-22 thrashing of an Australian side that would go on to lift the William Webb Ellis trophy just a year later.
Romania’s Sorin Socol is the second best number eight captain, with 22 wins.
9) George Gregan (34 wins)
Scrum-half Gregan had to follow in the footsteps of talisman John Eales and he did a pretty impressive job. He led his country to a home World Cup final in 2003, defeating favourites New Zealand in the semi-final. In 2004, Australia lost only three matches throughout their season, captained the Wallabies to three wins over the All Blacks and six wins over South Africa.
10) Lisandro Arbizu (28 wins)
Although more often used as a centre, Argentina’s Arbizu also started many games as captain at fly-half. He became Argentina’s youngest ever captain at the age of 21 and played in three World Cup campaigns, 1991, 1995 and 1999. Some of his biggest wins came over England, Scotland, Wales and France.
In second place is another Argentinian: Hugo Porta, who led his country to 18 wins. Australia’s Michael Lynagh is in third place on eleven wins.
11) Philippe Saint-Andre (25 wins)
As a captain Saint-Andre led Les Bleus to three wins over the All Blacks (including the famous 1994 Test series victory in New Zealand) and captained his country at the 1995 Rugby World Cup.
12) Will Carling (44 wins)
England’s youngest ever captain at 22. A double grand slam winner in 1991 and 1992 and the man who led England to their first World Cup final, as well as a further grand slam success in 1995, Carling formed a wonderful centre partnership with Jerry Guscott, arguably the greatest 12/13 combination that has ever been seen for the Red Rose.
South Africa’s Jean de Villiers lies in a distant second place with 24 wins.
13) Brian O’Driscoll (52 wins)
Irish fans came up with the saying, “In BOD we trust”, such is the reverence that O’Driscoll receives in his own country. Although BOD would make most people’s ‘all-time XVs’, as a captain he should be held in equal regard. He is the third most successful captain in rugby’s history and led the country to its first win over South Africa since 1965 and its first grand slam success in 61 years.
14) Gerhard Mans (20 wins)
Namibia’s captain in the 1990s is probably best remembered for his country’s shock test series win over Ireland in 1991. Ireland went down 15 – 6 in Windhoek the first week and 26 – 15 the next.
15) Tom Kiernan (14 wins)
It’s unusual for teams to be led by fullbacks, but Ireland’s Kiernan is the most successful of the lot. He led the men in green to famous wins over Australia in 1967 and 1968 as well defeating England, Scotland Wales and France thrice.
Paul Wassell, Pundit Arena
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