Who Are the Best Rugby World Cup Players of All Time?
We’re now almost two weeks into the 2023 Rugby World Cup, which is the 10th edition of this historic tournament. Despite still being in the early stages of the competition, we’ve already witnessed some mesmerizing personal performances, such as George Ford’s 27-point display against Argentina.
This got us thinking, who are the Best Rugby World Cup players of all time? Using some inspiration and the stats from this Ultimate XV team builder we’ve put together this list of our five favorites.
8. David Campese
Kicking off our list is the Australian maestro, David Campese. Known for his mesmerizing sidesteps and creative flair, Campese was a pivotal figure in the Wallabies’ triumph in the 1991 Rugby World Cup. His ability to conjure moments of brilliance and his innate sense of anticipation made him a constant threat on the field. Campese’s impact extended beyond try-scoring, as he played a crucial role in shaping Australia’s attacking style of play during that era.
7. Ma’a Nonu
Ma’a Nonu, the powerhouse center from New Zealand, deserves a prominent place on our list. Nonu’s imposing physicality, unmatched ball-carrying ability, and defensive prowess made him a standout performer in the 2011 and 2015 back to back Rugby World Cup victories. That feat alone deserves some recognition!
6. Bryan Habana
Who can forget Bryan Habana? Alongside Jonah Lomu, he shares the record for the highest number of tries scored at the Rugby World Cup with 15. Habana’s incredible speed and finishing ability made him a deadly weapon for the South African team. He played the most important role in the Springboks’ triumph in the 2007 Rugby World Cup, showcasing his exceptional try-scoring experties. Habana’s electrifying performances on the wing will be remembered as some of the most thrilling moments in the history of the tournament.
5. Jonah Lomu
The late and great Jonah Lomu takes fifth place on our list. We’d love to place him higher, but he never actually won the tournament!
That said, he did dominate the 1995 and 1999 Rugby World Cups on a personal level. This can be seen through the fact that he currently holds the record for the highest number of tries scored at the Rugby World Cup with 15 (another record shared with Bryan Habana) despite only playing in two editions of the tournament!
Lomu’s rise in these tournaments helped him develop into Rugby’s first global superstar. As well as increasing the appeal of the game around the world, it also changed the way we think about the traditional winger. At 6 feet 5 inches and 119 kilograms, he helped usher in a new generation of heavyweight wingers that could flatten defenders on their way to the try line. He changed the game forever.
4. Dan Carter
Synonymous with a generation of All Black dominance, Dan Carter is arguably the finest fly half to ever play the game. Plus, he’s one of only 21 players who have won multiple Rugby World Cups and he claimed back-to-back titles in 2011 and 2015.
The only thing that stops Carter being higher up this particular list is his injury record. This is because, in 2011, he picked up a groin injury during the pool stage and didn’t play in the knockout rounds. Thankfully, he played in every game of the 2015 tournament, including the final in which he kicked four penalties, two conversions, and a drop goal, and was named the man of the match.
All in all, Carter scored 191 points for the All Blacks and writes himself into the tournament folklore, surpassing his compatriot Grant Fox as the nation’s highest RWC scorer.
3. John Eales
John Eales was an awe-inspiring lock who guided the Wallabies to two Rugby World Cup titles (1991 and 1999). Widely considered to be one of the most successful and best captains in the history of the XV-a-side game, Eales transformed the game as it ushered in the professional era.
One of a select group of forwards to have over 100 test points, he remarkably only scored 2 tries, with the rest coming from the boot – not bad for a lock! His kicking prowess was often called upon in Rugby World Cup games as he scored points against Ireland, Wales and Romania in the competition.
Today, he remains one of a select group of players who have ever captured two Rugby World Cup titles.
2. Jonny Wilkinson
If one moment is going to define the entirety of your sporting career, then that moment may as well be the kick that secures the Rugby World Cup for your country.
Back in 2003, the Rugby World Cup final had gone into extra time, with England and Australia tied at 17-17. With only 28 seconds left on the clock and many expecting the game to be decided by a penalty shootout, Wilkinson received the ball 30 meters (98 feet) away from the Australian try line and launched a devastating drop kick that put England into the lead.
Although this is the moment that Wilkinson is best known for, he actually had an outstanding game from start to finish. In total he scored 15 of England’s 20 points and claimed the man of the match award.
We should stress that although the 2003 final was his crowning moment, Jonny Wilkinson continually performed on the sport’s biggest stage. Today he remains the competition’s highest point-scorer with 277 points in 19 appearances.
1. Richie McCaw
This list may contain some unbelievably good performers, but it could only be topped by one man: Richie McCaw.
A true legend of the game, McCaw has made more appearances at the Rugby World Cup than any player other than Jason Leonard (both have played in 22 matches).
McCaw was the captain in both 2011 and 2015, when New Zealand lifted the Rugby World Cup. In 2011, he effectively played the entire tournament with a fractured foot!
In truth, we could have picked 15-10 different players to feature on this list. But these, in our opinion, are the five greatest players to ever feature at the Rugby World Cup.
For more information on the current tournament, please click here.