In the first instalment of a seven-part series, SA Rugby magazine’s writers pick their best World XV of the past 25 years.
JON CARDINELLI: Two of the most destructive runners of the professional era played in the same back three for the All Blacks at the turn of the century. Who could forget the sight of Christian Cullen gliding past would-be tacklers, or Jonah Lomu using his formidable size, power and speed to breach – and, in many instances, embarrass – the opposition defence?
Cullen and Lomu scored 83 Test tries between them. The fullback enjoyed a particularly remarkable strike rate, touching down 46 times in 58 matches.
Bryan Habana will go down in history as one of the game’s greatest players. Like Lomu, Habana was a man for the big occasion. The Springbok wing equalled Lomu’s record of World Cup tries (15) and went on to top the all-time list for most tries scored by a tier-one Test player (67).
CRAIG LEWIS: I reckon the back-three selection could just be the most challenging to settle on when it comes to a World XV. I thought of Shane Williams, Israel Folau, Doug Howlett, Jason Robinson, Ben Smith and the list goes on.
In the end, none of the players above can make it in. At fullback you just can’t look past Christian Cullen, who was just one of the most devastating fullbacks the game has ever had.
And, please forgive me South African rugby fans, but on the wings I’m opting for two more All Blacks by picking the legendary duo of Jonah Lomu and Jeff Wilson.
Wilson was a magician who scored tries for fun, and while I’d love to include Bryan Habana in this World XV, he finds himself competing with Lomu for a berth on the left wing. Ultimately, I ended up watching enough Lomu highlights reels to convince me that he simply has to be included.
WADE PRETORIUS: Something is either very right, or very wrong if the entire panel can agree on Christian Cullen. Not that he wasn’t one of the most devastating players but that this team almost always offers diverse opinions. Credit then to Cullen as standing out above the rest.
Jonah Lomu‘s impact on the game remains to today and the fact that he repeated his World Cup 1995 try-scoring feats at the 1999 edition, means he did enough to cement his place in rugby superstardom.
On the right, I’m going Jason Robinson. Few possessed his ability to break the line while his finishing was deadly, too. A rugby league convert, who mastered union, he ended his career as a World Cup winner and left a legacy for future generations.
MARIETTE ADAMS: I’m going to keep this short. In my humble opinion, Christian Cullen is the greatest fullback to have ever graced a rugby field. Likewise, Jonah Lomu and David Campese as wings.
This sport has been blessed with many a great fullback. Think Matt Burke, Jason Robinson, Andre Joubert, Percy Montgomery, Ben Smith and Israel Folau (yes, Folau). But there was something artful about Cullen in full flight.
My colleagues have already highlighted the bare statistics of his six-year Test stint. Sadly, Cullen’s All Blacks career was cut short by a chronic knee injury, but to this day his pure speed, skill and all-round mastery on the ball remain unmatched.
Known as the Wizard of Oz, Campese made 101 Test appearances for the Wallabies. At one time, he was the game’s greatest try-scorer with 64. He has since moved down to third on that list, having conceded the record to Japan’s Daisuke Ohata (69) and South Africa’s Bryan Habana (67). At his best, Campese was unstoppable with his weaving runs and mesmerising footwork.
No hypothetical World XV should be without the great Lomu. Perhaps not as elegant as Cullen and Campese, but equally – if not more – destructive. It’s a case of grace meets power in this back three.
Even in death, Lomu is rugby’s most iconic and recognisable figure and that alone should give you an indication of the talent that he was.
DYLAN JACK: At fullback I have gone for one of the deadliest runners of the ball in Christian Cullen. The Paekakariki Express has a remarkable record of 46 tries in 58 Test matches, something very few fullbacks have matched and remains one of the most respected All Blacks of all time.
On the right wing, I have gone for the diminutive but deceptive Shane Williams. At 80kg, the Swansea-born player was a precursor to the likes of Cheslin Kolbe. In an 11-year Test career, Williams established himself as one of the greatest Welsh players, scoring 60 tries in 91 matches.
There could be only one for the No 11 jersey. Bryan Habana dominated Test rugby during his 12-year international career and will go down as one of rugby’s greatest-ever players.
Photo: Dave Rogers/ALLSPORT