Kiwi pundit backs Grant Fox over Dan Carter as best All Blacks No 10
In an ongoing segment on Sky Sport’s The Breakdown, a host of leading Kiwi broadcasters and journalists are aiming to name New Zealand’s Greatest XV, the brainchild of former All Blacks wing Sir John Kirwan and ex-All Blacks coach Sir Graham Henry, with the help of the public vote.
Already, the forward pack for the team has been named, with Tony Woodcock, Sean Fitzpatrick, Ken Gray, Brodie Retallick, Sir Colin Meads, Sir Michael Jones, Richie McCaw and Zinzan Brooke filling the jerseys numbers one to eight.
This week’s segment put the spotlight on New Zealand’s greatest halfbacks and first-five, but the debate over the best-ever All Blacks No 10 took an interesting twist when Sky Sport broadcaster Ken Laban opted for Grant Fox as his pick.
Fox was one of four candidates to don the No 10 jersey, with the other contenders being Dan Carter, Andrew Mehrtens and Beauden Barrett.
To the surprise of the expert panel, which also features Sky Sport duo Rikki Swannell and long-serving commentator Grant Nisbett, as well as veteran NZME journalist Phil Gifford, Laban picked Fox over Carter.
The latter is widely-regarded as one of the greatest players in the history of rugby union, but Laban argued Fox’s exploits were more impressive given his status as an amateur player.
“I’m going to go for Grant Fox,” Laban told Nisbett on The Breakdown.
“I had a look at some numbers, I see that during his time as an All Black, he averaged 14 points per All Black appearance, as did Dan Carter. I feel that Dan had a lot more advantages in his game than Grant Fox had.
“Grant didn’t have the technology, he didn’t have the coaching staff, he didn’t have the coaching support or technical support that was then afforded in the professional era because that was just the way it was in that era.”
Gifford questioned both Laban’s selection and Fox’s defensive efforts, but Laban said the current All Blacks selector, a 1987 World Cup winner, was a rugby mastermind that thrived without the luxuries at the disposal of the modern-day professional.
“Foxy wasn’t there to tackle. In terms of what Foxy achieved as a player in the era that he played in, with the lack of technical, scientific video analysis support, he was still able to come up with a plan, approach and a level of consistency at the highest level to keep the All Blacks in that No 1 position.”
— RugbyPass (@RugbyPass) August 16, 2021
Gifford countered Laban’s argument by suggesting that Carter possessed all the attributes Fox had, but offered more than what the 59-year-old could.
“To be honest, I think Dan Carter was able to do all of the things Foxy could do, but added extra elements to it,” Gifford said.
“As in the attacking play, the running play, which, with all due respect to Foxy, Dan Carter was a better runner than Grant was, but he was also a fabulous tackler.
“He really was, in the game now, when you need everybody to be a defensive guru, Carter was terrific at that as well.”
Gifford added that the late All Blacks icon Sir Fred Allen, a first-five for New Zealand between 1946 and 1949, regarded Carter as the greatest No 10 he had ever seen in his lifetime.
“This actually is an easy one for me, because, in the last decade of his life, I had the incredible good fortune to live quite closely to where Fred Allen did.
“One day, we were talking about first-fives, and Fred Allen said, and I quote, ‘The best first-five in the whole of my life’ – he was nearly 90 by then, Fred Allen – ‘The best first-five I’ve seen in the whole of my life in any team, anywhere in the world, without doubt, is Dan Carter’.
“If Sir Fred Allen says that Dan Carter is the best first-five he ever saw, then I have to vote for Carter.”
Swannell agreed with Gifford’s stance on the matter as she also backed Carter, the 112-test veteran who won two World Cups and ended his career as one of the most decorated players ever, as her pick for the No 10 jersey.
“It’s a no-brainer for me on Dan Carter. I just think, not only [one of] the greatest All Blacks, but I think we could be looking at globally best,” Swannell said.
— RugbyPass (@RugbyPass) August 17, 2021
As for halfback, Sid Going, ex-All Blacks captain Dave Loveridge, Justin Marshall and current All Blacks halfback Aaron Smith were the candidates.
Gifford, Laban and Swannell were all unanimous in their decision as to who should don the No 9 jersey as they all opted for Smith.
Laban acknowledged that while it was difficult to look past Loveridge, who he said was among the best halfbacks of his era throughout the 1970s and 1980s, Smith stood above his peers.
“Trapper, Dave Loveridge, in his era – no weaknesses in his game, well-decorated player – but it’s hard to look past the incumbent, Aaron Smith,” Laban told Nisbett.
“We’ve already talked about he’s the greatest of all-time and he makes a very compelling case, so, for me, Aaron Smith.”
Smith was also backed by Swannell, who noted the 32-year-old’s resilience to come back as a better player and a better person after his infamous toilet tryst in 2016.
That being said, Swannell conceded that Marshall, an 81-test veteran who played for the All Blacks between 1995 and 2005, stood as a strong challenger to Smith for a place in the Greatest All Blacks XV.
“We could probably just sit and tell stories about Justin Marshall – intensely competitive, incredibly committed, and such a key part of that Crusaders era,” Swannell said.
“And then going back to guys like Loveridge, but I agree with Ken. I think we’ve got something incredibly special in Aaron Smith, and he has got better.
Richie McCaw, Sir Michael Jones and Zinzan Brooke have been named as the greatest All Blacks loose forwards of all-time by a panel of rugby experts and the Kiwi public. #AllBlacks https://t.co/PnJQatc8Jy
— RugbyPass (@RugbyPass) August 17, 2021
“Perhaps, like others, he could have retreated into himself a few years ago and not become the player he has, but he took it upon himself to be better and he is everything a world-class halfback needs to be.
“I think we are very lucky to be watching him play at the moment.”
Gifford, meanwhile, said all four players could have been regarded as New Zealand’s best halfback during their respective tenures in the All Blacks.
However, he also picked Smith, a 2015 World Cup winner who recently made his 100th test appearance in the first test of this year’s Bledisloe Cup series, as his pick for the No 9 jersey.
“The strongest-tackling halfback I’ve ever seen is Sid Going,” Gifford said.
“Without question, the best single test display by a halfback I’ve ever seen was in 1983, Dave Loveridge against the Lions.
“Until Aaron Smith came along, I would have picked Justin Marshall as my halfback because I just think Justin was so combative and so aggressive that it was like having four loose forwards, as we all know.
“However, I think Aaron Smith is just absolutely the whole package in one.”
Fans can vote for who they believe should be selected in the second row for the Greatest All Blacks XV via Facebook using the links below.
Sid Going (29 tests from 1967-1977)
Dave Loveridge (24 tests from 1978-1985)
Justin Marshall (81 tests from 1995-2005)
Aaron Smith (101 tests from 2012-present)
Grant Fox (46 tests from 1985-1993)
Andrew Mehrtens (70 tests from 1995-2004)
Dan Carter (112 tests from 2003-2015)
Beauden Barrett (93 tests from 2012-present)
All Blacks Greatest XV
1. Tony Woodcock (118 tests from 2002-2015)
2. Sean Fitzpatrick (92 tests from 1986-1997)
3. Ken Gray (24 tests from 1963-1969)
4. Colin Meads (55 tests from 1957-1971)
5. Brodie Retallick (84 tests from 2012-present)
6. Michael Jones (56 tests from 1986-1998)
7. Richie McCaw (148 tests from 2001-2015)
8. Zinzan Brooke (58 tests from 1987 to 1997)
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