The best All Blacks XV: Who are New Zealand's greatest locks?
Which players throughout the course of history would make an all-time All Blacks XV?
That is the question that has been posed by former New Zealand internationals and a host of leading Kiwi broadcasters and journalists as they aim to formulate the best All Blacks team ever.
The Greatest XV, the brainchild of former All Blacks wing Sir John Kirwan and ex-All Blacks coach Sir Graham Henry, will identify, with the help of a public vote, the 15 greatest All Blacks ever – as well as a captain, coach and reserves bench – over the next eight weeks.
After Tony Woodcock, Sean Fitzpatrick and Ken Gray were named as New Zealand’s greatest front rowers earlier this week, the debate continued on The Breakdown as the All Blacks’ greatest-ever locks came under the spotlight.
Four candidates were shortlisted for each of the two second row spots, with the contenders for the tighthead lock being Andy Haden, Brodie Retallick, 62-test Robin Brooke and the iconic Brad Thorn.
Sky Sport broadcasters Rikki Swannell and Ken Laban both opted for Retallick, with Swannell asserting the 83-test star’s “work rate, skill-set, core jobs” made him the pick of the punch.
“My vote’s going to go for Brodie,” added Laban. “I just think he’s the most dominant lock every time he’s taken the field against any opponent during his time [in the All Blacks], so my vote’s Brodie.”
Veteran NZME journalist Phil Gifford, however, opted for the late Haden, who he described as “possibly the most street-smart All Black there’s ever been”.
“Andy would find a way to get the better of his opponent, and it’s something he had in common, I think, even though they were very different people, with Colin Meads, and so, for me, my pick is Andy Haden,” Gifford told long-serving Sky Sport commentator Grant Nisbett.
Gifford added that he wouldn’t be dismayed if Retallick won the nod over Haden, but said he would have loved to have seen the two go toe-to-toe with each other during a match.
“If you were able to, somehow in their prime, have Andy Haden marking Brodie Retallick in a lineout, I would pay huge money to see that, because Andy Haden, I think would find some way to put Retallick off his stride,” Gifford said.
“Whether it was verbally, whether it was physically, whether it was timing – whatever it was, I just think Andy Haden had one of the most astute rugby minds we’ve ever seen in this country.
— RugbyPass (@RugbyPass) August 4, 2021
“Having said all of that, Brodie Retallick, as I said, he’s an all-time great. No question. I’d be very comfortable with him getting the public vote as well.”
As for the loosehead lock role, the four candidates were Sir Colin Meads, 1987 World Cup winner Gary Whetton, 79-test Ian Jones and current interim All Blacks skipper Sam Whitelock.
This time, though, the panel were unanimous in their decision as all those involved in the debate heralded Meads as one of the greatest All Blacks in history.
“When people of my generation, they hear the name, that revered figure, he is somebody that I always wished that I got to see play,” Swannell said of Meads, whose 55-test career spanned between 1957 and 1971.
“Most of the colourful stories about Colin Meads involve violence,” Gifford added. “The fact is, back in those days, the players had their own code, and the code often included, literally, punching somebody in the face.
“But, there was so much more to the guy than that. As a player, I just don’t think Colin Meads had any weaknesses. Hell, he even kicked a conversion once for King Country.
“So, for me, Colin Meads deserves every single bit of praise and almost semi-worship that he’s had from the rugby public.”
Playmaker Brett Cameron was a shock selection when the #AllBlacks travelled to Japan in 2018 but the young pivot has struggled to push on. Now, Cameron is off to Japan – where he hopes to reignite his career.
— The XV Rugby (@TheXV) August 4, 2021
Laban said Meads’ characteristics made him one of the most respected figures in New Zealand rugby history.
“All of the things that we say about him and all of the things that we admire about him are his courage, his physical presence and his leadership,” he said.
“You’re just drawn to him. You’re just drawn to his charisma, his humility, his modesty, which of course goes against the grain of a few corpses he’s left lying around rugby fields around the world.”
Nisbett shared a story of an encounter he had with Meads, who was named New Zealand’s Player of the 20th Century, after he received his knighthood in 2009 that Nisbett said encapsulated the late ex-All Blacks captain’s personality.
“The day after he received his knighthood in Wellington, I just happened to be leaving Wellington, and he was in the Koru Club [at the airport], and I saw him sitting there,” Nisbett said.
“I said, ‘So how did you enjoy yesterday?’, and he said, ‘Ugh, not really my thing’, and that absolutely summed him up.”
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.
Colin Meads (55 tests from 1957-1971)
Gary Whetton (58 tests from 1981-1991)
Ian Jones (79 tests from 1990-1999)
Sam Whitelock (125 tests from 2010-present)
Andy Haden (41 tests from 1977-1985)
Brodie Retallick (83 tests from 2012-present)
Robin Brooke (62 tests from 1992-1999)
Brad Thorn (59 tests from 2003-2011)
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)
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