The best All Blacks XV: Who are New Zealand's greatest loose forwards? (2023)

Which players throughout the course of history would make an all-timeAll BlacksXV?


That is the question that has been posed by formerNew Zealandinternationals 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.

The best All Blacks XV: Who are New Zealand's greatest loose forwards? (1)

Will Jordan named to start for the All Blacks in second Bledisloe Cup test against Wallabies

The best All Blacks XV: Who are New Zealand's greatest loose forwards? (2)

Will Jordan named to start for the All Blacks in second Bledisloe Cup test against Wallabies

After uncovering New Zealand’s best-ever tight five over the past fortnight, the debate continued on The Breakdown as the All Blacks’ greatest loose forwards came under the spotlight.

(Video) Selecting my All Time ALL BLACKS XV! | The greatest All Blacks side of all time.

Four candidates were shortlisted for each of the three loose forward spots, with the contenders for openside flanker being the iconic Waka Nathan, former All Blacks captain Graham Mourie, Sir Michael Jones and Richie McCaw.

Veteran NZME journalist Phil Gifford and Sky Sport broadcasters Ken Laban and Rikki Swannell were all unanimous in their decision as to who should don the No 7 jersey as they all opted for two-time World Cup-winning captain McCaw.

“Look, I think Richie McCaw, for me, is a relatively easy choice, despite how good that list is,” Swannell told long-serving Sky Sport commentator Grant Nisbett.


“148 tests, a couple of World Cups – he played in 2011 with a bolt in his foot – a fearsome leader. Yeah, it’s McCaw, easily.”

Gifford agreed with Swannell’s comments about McCaw’s greatness, but said it was a difficult decision to rule Jones, who he described as “an absolute freak”, out of the equation.

“Michael Jones could jump as high on the wall as any of the All Black locks,” Gifford said.

“Michael Jones had the upper-body strength that matched all the All Black props. He also had a skill set that matched the first and second-five-eighths in the All Blacks in ’87 Rugby World Cup.


“You put it all together, and there was no other way to describe Michael Jones as an absolute freak, so as far as this contest, for me, it is a hell of a hard one, actually.

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“I have to go for Richie McCaw, because 15 seasons in the All Blacks, every single minute on the field, there was 100 percent concentration, totally dynamic – I have to vote for McCaw.”

At blindside flanker, Jones was up for nomination again alongside ex-All Blacks captain and World Rugby Hall of Fame inductee Ian Kirkpatrick, the late Jerry Collins and Jerome Kaino.

Laban opted for Kaino as he labelled the former 81-test star as “the greatest No 6 that has ever played rugby”.

“If you talk to All Black personnel that were involved in the 2011, 2015 Rugby World Cup victories, they will tell you – Steve Hansen has told me many times – that those two campaigns swung on two enormous plays,” Laban told Nisbett.

“One a defensive one [Kaino’s rag doll tackle on Wallabies wing Digby Ioane in the 2011 World Cup semi-final] , one an offensive one [Kaino’s try against the Springboks in the 2015 World Cup semi-final], that involved Jerome.”

Laban said Kaino warranted a spot in the team over Jones due to Kaino’s strengths as a traditional blindside flanker.

“In terms of blindside flankers, Michael Jones was a No 7 who played No 6 because we had to accomodate him in the team. Jerome Kaino was a specialist No 6 who absolutely dominated the position.”

Swannell also backed Kaino for the No 6 role because of his defensive exploits during the 2011 World Cup semi-final against the Wallabies.

“I’m going to say Jerome Kaino as well because I will never, as long as I live, the defensive play in the semi-final against Australia in 2011, he basically manhandled Digby Ioane,” Swannell said.

“He pretty much pulled him back from the line, threw him over, and that, to me, was the winning of the 2011 World Cup.”

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Gifford, however, selected Jones as his pick due to his influence in the side during his 12-year test career.

“I just can’t go past Michael Jones,” Gifford told The Breakdown. “In the No 7 [jersey], the openside flanker, we had to pick between Richie McCaw and Michael Jones. I mean, good grief, that’s just a nightmare to select that.

“I’m sorry, but Michael Jones goes in my team. As great as Jerome Kaino is, I’m picking Michael at No 6.”

Nisbett agreed with Gifford as he stated that he “can’t pick an All Black team that doesn’t have Michael Jones in it”.

The contenders to fill the No 8 spot, meanwhile, were the late Sir Brian Lochore, Sir Wayne ‘Buck’ Shelford, Zinzan Brooke and former All Blacks captain Kieran Read.

All three panellists were unanimous in their decision in backing Brooke, though, as Gifford said that while New Zealand has been blessed with a plethora of superb No 8s throughout the course of history, few stand out as much as the 58-test star.

“There’s some fabulous No 8s, whether it’s the skill of Murray Mexted, or the guts and toughness of Buck Shelford, or the all-round, amazing play and the leadership of Brian Lochore,” Gifford told Nisbett.

“But, I think, when you’ve got a No 8 that can drop kick a goal from 40 metres, when you’ve got a No 8 that, when he was 13 was working as a professional shearer with his mother, who was a professional shearer, when you’ve got a No 8 who I first met when he was a 16-year-old and – against rough, tough, big truck drivers and guys that worked in quarries – won $1000 in a gravelling contest in a shopping mall in Henderson that I was MC-ing for a radio station, that’s Zinzan Brooke.

“Zinzan Brooke may have done all the flashy stuff, and he could certainly do that, but, by God, he was as tough as nails as well, so my vote goes to Zinny.”

Swannell and Laban both noted that Brooke’s skill set was unmatched by any other No 8 in rugby.

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“It’s interesting how the game’s evolved over time when we now expect our front rowers to be able to run and pass like backs, we expect our locks to be able to win lineouts, win kick-offs, but, like Brodie Retallick, run in midfield and be able to create play and opportunities,” Laban said.

“Zinzan Brooke was one of those players before the game was ready for him. Had Zinzan played in the modern era, it would have been a hell of a contest between him and Read for who gets the No 8 jersey.

“There’s that saying in sport, ‘How do you spot the great players?’, and people say it’s easy. When the game’s on the line, they’re the ones screaming for the ball. That was Zinzan Brooke. Great player.”

Swannell added: “That drop kick in ’96 [against the Springboks] is one of the iconic images of New Zealand rugby, the still shot of him with the fist pump afterwards.”

Fans can vote for who they believe should be selected in the front row for the Greatest All Blacks XV via Facebook using the links below.

Openside Flanker

Waka Nathan (14 tests from 1962-1967)
Graham Mourie (21 tests from 1977-1982)
Michael Jones (56 tests from 1986-1998)
Richie McCaw (148 tests from 2001-2015)


Blindside Flanker

Ian Kirkpatrick (39 tests from 1967-1977)
Michael Jones (56 tests from 1986-1998)
Jerry Collins (48 tests from 2001-2007)
Jerome Kaino (81 tests from 2006-2017)


No 8

Brian Lochore (25 tests from 1964-1971)
Wayne ‘Buck’ Shelford (22 tests from 1986-1990)
Zinzan Brooke (58 tests from 1987-1997)
Kieran Read (127 tests from 2008-2019)

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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. N/A
7. N/A
8. N/A
9. N/A
10. N/A
11. N/A
12. N/A
13. N/A
14. N/A
15. N/A


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