A number of iconic players have graced the rugby world stage across the sport’s history, competing in a number of thrilling domestic and global tournaments.


Of course, ranking players can be a hugely subjective matter, but we’ve taken into consideration the sporting individual’s abilities and performances, along with the impact they have had on the game.

It's a huge year for rugby with the Six Nations under way – and as competitive as ever – while the Rugby World Cup is on the horizon this year.

RadioTimes.com brings you our round-up of the greatest and most influential rugby union players of all time.

10. Antoine Dupont (France)

Antoine Dupont
Antoine Dupont Getty Images

We know what you’re thinking – it’s far too early to add the award-winning French scrum-half to this greatest of all time list. But the Les Bleus’ talisman is undoubtedly leading one of the most exciting teams on the international stage, all while helping to change the perception of the sport.

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The superstar’s world-class talent is a real joy to watch, with his flair and thrilling line-breaks consistently proving a truly entertaining spectacle for club and country - with both teams often packing out stadiums.

For such a technical sport which is often viewed with certain snooty perceptions, players such as Dupont, Ellis Genge and Maro Itoje really are revitalising the game for a brand new audience.

9. Sergio Parisse (Italy)

Widely considered as one of the greatest Italian rugby players of all time, Sergio Parisse is a hugely influential modern great of the game.

The towering 6 ft 5 back-rower possesses the physique and skillset of a back, with his power and leadership long since putting him in contention as one of the greatest number 8s.

With a career spanning over twenty years and five Rugby World Cups, the 39 year old Italian giant is the most-capped player in Guinness Six Nations history - and is still playing for Top 14 team Toulon today.

8. Bryan Habana (South Africa)

It’s not often that a sport star races the fastest mammal alive, but Habana famously did, demonstrating the sheer speed and acceleration of the legendary winger.

Before Springbok stars Cheslin Kolbe and Kurt-Lee Arendse burst onto the scene, Bryan Habana was tearing it up as the top speedster. His try scoring precision was second to none, but his interceptions really were special, particularly against Argentina in the Rugby 2007 World Cup.

The winger’s total caps exceeded the 100 mark across his illustrious 12-year international career, dotting down 67 tries. He also famously equalled Jonah Lomu’s record for the highest number of tries scored at Rugby World Cups (15).

7. Gareth Edwards (Wales)

A legendary player in Welsh rugby history, Edwards led a formidable national team which largely dominated the Northern hemisphere.

The hugely talented scrum-half was a gifted playmaker and an all-round sportsman. He’s best known for what is considered one of rugby's greatest ever tries for the Barbarians against New Zealand at Cardiff Arms Park back in 1973.

Sir Gareth Edwards holds an enviable record, winning the Five Nations Championship as scrum-half for an incredible 11 times between 1967-1978 and scored 20 tries in his 53 tests for Wales.

6. Martin Johnson (England)

Martin Johnson
Martin Johnson Getty Images

With an incredible career spanning 16 years for both club and country - winning countless trophies and accolades along the way - Martin Johnson is deservedly considered one of the greatest rugby locks in the game's history.

Best known for captaining the dominant 2003 England side to Rugby World Cup glory, the 6ft 7 towering skipper commanded a real presence on the pitch, with an enviable talent for reading the game.

In 2001, Johnson became the first player to captain the British and Irish Lions twice, and was remarkably involved in all 10 Five/Six Nations tournaments since his debut. He also captained the Leicester Tigers to four successive Premiership titles.

5. Brian O'Driscoll (Ireland)

The former captain of Ireland, Leinster Rugby and the British and Irish Lions will undoubtedly go down in history as the greatest, and one of the most decorated, Irish players ever.

The hugely talented centre was a near unstoppable force who scored some of the most incredible tries. His offloads, interceptions and dummy passes were also a real sight to behold, with his 2009 grand slamming winning drop goal proving one his most magical moments.

He led his Irish side to a remarkable Grand Slam and three Triple Crowns, while setting the record for scoring 26 tries in the Six Nations Championship. He’s also the 8th highest try scorer in international rugby union history.

4. Jonny Wilkinson (England)

The Newcastle Falcons and Toulouse fly-half has certainly earned his spot as one of the greatest players of the nation, with his exploits in the game cementing his place in English sporting history.

Best known for his superb kicking abilities, Wilkinson also proved a truly dedicated team player with an impressive work rate, often excelling in his defensive work despite his shirt number and stature.

His iconic last-gasp drop in extra time saw him clinch the win for England against Australia in the historic 2003 Rugby World Cup glory, inspiring a whole generation in that thrilling moment. He’s also won an incredible number of awards and holds numerous world records, including the most drop goals in an international career (36).

3. Dan Carter (New Zealand)

Carter is often lauded as epitomising the perfect fly-half, becoming one of the greatest backs of the professional era.

The fly-half’s control and impact on the game was undeniable thanks to the dangerous combination of pinpoint kicking precision, play-making vision and his running ability. Amongst his array of incredible performances, scoring an unforgettable 33 points against the British and Irish Lions in 2005 is certainly a highlight.

During his time with the dominant All Black side, Carter became the leading points scorer in international rugby, totalling 1598 points and 112 caps. He proved instrumental in their two World Cup wins, with his performances leading him to become a three-time World Rugby Player of the Year winner.

2. Richie McCaw (New Zealand)

The illustrious flanker’s record-breaking 14-year career truly illustrates his influential status as the most decorated All Black captain, leading his team to two successive World Cup wins in 2011 and 2015.

Best known for his dangerous prowess at the breakdown, McCaw improved his game to become a hugely gifted all-round talent, with enviable ball-carrying dynamism to boot.

McCaw and teammate Dan Carter also set staggering Super Rugby records for Canterbury Crusaders. With a 148 cap tally for the All Blacks and setting numerous World Records, McCaw is certainly one of the most successful and influential players to grace the domestic and world stage.

1. Jonah Lomu (New Zealand)

Jonah Lomu
Jonah Lomu Getty Images

The All Black legend was an incredibly rare player and has long since been considered the first global superstar of Rugby - having a huge impact on the sport.

The winger shot to fame with an outstanding performance in the 1995 World Cup, scoring seven tries in five matches, with four of those in the semi-final against England. He went on to top that with a record 15 tries during the 1999 Rugby World Cup tournament.

Throughout his international career, his intense physicality and impressive speed led to a total of 63 caps and 37 tries, and his dominant performances helped increase the popularity of the sport worldwide.

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