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New Zealand’s Greatest XV

As part of a series of articles on the best sides from each nation, we turn our attentions next to the greatest players to have ever played for New Zealand’s revered All Blacks.

Rather than simply producing a subjective team list based on one person’s opinions, we will go through several statistically-based sides to help you decide on your ultimate XV.

We begin by looking at the players who have won the most games for New Zealand.

The Winners XV

The successes of the Graham Henry and Steve Hansen eras are highlighted here with the vast majority of the side having played most of their games post-2003 when Henry took over from former coach John Mitchell.

But to have three players in the team with over hundred wins each is quite astounding and shows that despite accusations of heavy rotation during the Henry days, there was still very much a ‘spine’ to his sides.

A significant number of players here would probably make most supporters’ all-time lists, which shows the quality of players that New Zealand produces.

1) Tony Woodcock (102 wins)
2) Kevin Mealamu (113 wins)
3) Owen Franks (70 wins)
4) Sam Whitelock (66 wins)
5) Ali Williams (64 wins)
6) Jerome Kaino (53 wins)
7) Richie McCaw (128 wins)
8) Kieran Read (73 wins)

9) Justin Marshall (61 wins)
10) Dan Carter (88 wins)
11) Joe Rokocoko (55 wins)
12) Ma’a Nonu (82 wins)
13) Conrad Smith (83 wins)
14) Doug Howlett (49 wins)
15) Mils Muliaina (72 wins)

The Percentages XV

Of course, New Zealand nowadays play an awful lot more tests than they used to because of factors like professionalism and the growth of the Tri-Nations into the Rugby Championship. Therefore, this team may provide a more level playing field in terms of measuring success.

This side is made up of players with the best winning percentages in international rugby.

We have only included players with over 40 caps to provide ‘quality assurance’. It’s very easy to have a high winning percentage if you’ve only played a handful of games.

1) Wyatt Crockett 46/48 (97%)
2) Kevin Mealamu 113/131 (87%)
3) Owen Franks 70/80 (89%)
4) Brodie Rettalick 45/49 (94%)
5) Sam Whitelock 66/74 (91%)
6) Jerome Kaino 53/61 (88%)
7) Richie McCaw 128/145 (89%)
8) Kieran Read 73/82 (90%)

9) Aaron Smith 45/50 (92%)
10) Dan Carter 88/100 (89%)
11) Julian Savea 38/42 (92%)
12) Ma’a Nonu 82/94 (88%)
13) Conrad Smith 83/93 (90%)
14) Cory Jane 40/48 (85%)
15) Israel Dagg 42/46 (92%)

What’s most impressive here is the sheer number of players with a winning percentage over 90. The success of New Zealand’s period post-2003 is certainly unparalleled.

The Try Scorers XV

In terms of tries scored in each position, which see a very different side from the previous two. Kees Meeuws, Sean Fitzpatrick, Richard Loe, Ian Jones and Ian Kirkpatrick all makes appearances in the forwards, whilst Christian Cullen is the All Blacks’ highest try scoring fullback.

1) Kees Meeuws (10) / Tony Woodcock (10)
2) Sean Fitzpatrick (12) / Kevin Mealamu (12)
3) Richard Loe (6)
4) Ian Jones (9)
5) Ali Williams (7)
6) Ian Kirkpatrick (16)
7) Richie McCaw (26)
8) Kieran Read (21)

9) Justin Marshall (24)
10) Dan Carter (25)
11) Doug Howlett (47)
12) Ma’a Nonu (30)
13) Conrad Smith (25)
14) Joe Rokocoko (46)
15) Christian Cullen (41)

Beating Australia and South Africa XV

One constant that has run throughout New Zealand’s rugby history is the desire to beat southern hemisphere rivals South Africa and Australia. We’ve discarded wins against Argentina as those games are now more numerous thanks to the introduction of the ‘Rugby Championship’.

As for the team, a few new faces crop up in Greg Somerville, Chris Jack, Josh Kronfeld and Piri Weepu.

1) Tony Woodcock (36)
2) Kevin Mealamu (44)
3) Greg Somerville (24)
4) Sam Whitelock (23)
5) Chris Jack (22) / Ali Williams (22)
6) Josh Kronfeld (18) / Jerome Kaino (18)
7) Richie McCaw (49)
8) Kieran Read (28)

9) Piri Weepu (27) / Justin Marshall (27)
10) Dan Carter (32)
11) Joe Rokocoko (22)
12) Ma’a Nonu (31)
13) Conrad Smith (31)
14) Cory Jane (17)
15) Mils Muliaina (30)

Conquering Europe XV

Lastly, we look at the players that have defeated the major powers in Europe in England, Wales, Scotland, Ireland and France the most times.

1) Tony Woodcock (42)
2) Kevin Mealamu (44)
3) Owen Franks (31)
4) Ali Williams (27)
5) Sam Whitelock (26)
6) Jerome Kaino (22)
7) Richie McCaw (55)
8) Kieran Read (29)

9) Piri Weepu (24)
10) Dan Carter (37)
11) Joe Rokocoko (26)
12) Ma’a Nonu (34)
13) Conrad Smith (33)
14) John Kirwan (21) / Jonah Lomu (21)
15) Mils Muliaina (27)

At long last, legends John Kirwan and Jonah Lomu finally make an appearance! This just illustrates the dominance Lomu had over European teams despite his career being cut tragically short by illness.


Hopefully these teams have muddied the waters a little in terms of your ‘all-time’ All Blacks side, but ultimately the Steve Hansen-era All Blacks is arguably the greatest rugby team has ever existed, and possibly the best ever sports team. The statistics certainly support that argument.

Paul Wassell, Pundit Arena

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