Is Brian O’Driscoll the greatest centre ever to play the game?

I think that is a fair enough question. Sure, everyone has an opinion on this. To some, it would be Philippe Sella, to others Bruce Robertson, and to yet others, it would be the great Danie Gerber. The point here is that Brian O’Driscoll sits in this pantheon.

He made his name with a hat-trick of tries against the French in Paris in 2000, helping his team to a famous victory, and their first in the French capital in more than quarter of a century. But it was THE try against the Wallabies in Ballymore that made the world sit up and notice this supremely gifted athlete.

Has there ever been a more certain man to don a Lions jersey? Not to my knowledge.

Bunce, Umaga, or Smith?

In the 21 years of professional Rugby, there have been three exceptional centres to play in the number 13 jersey for New Zealand. All three have their own special attributes and without a doubt this is a most difficult position to compare the immortals and select only one.

Frank Bunce, Tana Umaga and Conrad Smith are these immortals of the centre position in New Zealand rugby.

Frank Bunce was devastating in the tackle, had incredible vision, and was part of the famous Little-Bunce combination that, when broken at the end of 1997, took more than a decade to replace in some way or other.

Then you have Tana Umaga, whose seemingly premature departure from the national team took the country by such surprise they were still reeling come Cardiff 2007. Would Tana have made a difference? It is impossible to know, but what we do know is that he had an enormous impact on the way the hugely successful era of 2005-2015 got started. Perhaps that is his greatest accomplishment in the black jersey?

Our Man

When you look at Bunce, Umaga, and Conrad Smith in a lineup you would have to say that Conrad Smith is the odd one out. He played a different game from the others in that he was not as direct or confrontational. He used guile and an innate rugby brain to dominate the position for the best part of eight years.

His running lines, defensive organisation and almost telepathic understanding with his partner in crime, Ma’a Nonu will not be replaced in a hurry. His two World Cup winners medals and an 89.3% test winning record make Conrad Smith our choice in the hotly contest number 13 jersey.

Conrad Smith runs in for a try during the 3rd test match between the New Zealand All Blacks and the British and Irish Lions at Eden Park in Auckland. Photo:Andrew Cornaga/PHOTOSPORT
Conrad Smith runs in for a try during the 3rd test match between the New Zealand All Blacks and the British and Irish Lions at Eden Park in Auckland. Photo:Andrew Cornaga/PHOTOSPORT

The professional era teams to date…

All Blacks

1. Tony Woodcock
2. Dane Coles
3. Carl Hayman
4. Brodie Retallick
5. Sam Whitelock
6. Jerry Collins
7. Richie McCaw (c)
8. Kieran Read
9. Aaron Smith
10. Dan Carter
11. Jonah Lomu
12. Ma’a Nonu
13. Conrad Smith


1. Tom Smith
2. Keith Wood
3. Phil Vickery
4. Martin Johnson (c)
5. Paul O’Connell
6. Lawrence Dallaglio
7. Richard Hill
8. Jamie Heaslip
9. Matt Dawson
10. Jonny Wilkinson
11. George North
12. Jeremy Guscott
13. Brian O’Driscoll

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Author: Steven Prescott

I am a total sports fanatic; it is as simple as that. I love all sports, and when I’m not sitting at my computer living my dream with The 1014, I am planning adventures. The last time I did this I ended up convincing my wife to cycle 26,125km across three continents, and 22 countries with me as part of the Pedalling Prescotts.


  1. Man of the tour on a 1997 victorious tour to the home of the reigning world champions. Has to be in the team. Scott Gibbs. No one has come close.

    Tough call picking who to pair him with. If plump with Gibbs inside at 12 and BOD outside him.

    • Ben, thanks for the comment.
      That is a big call to have Gibbs over BOD, but it is a fair point about the Man of the tour and the victory over the incumbent World Champions. It is the only time the Lions have beaten the incumbent World Champions. It is a great point.
      Also, to my mind it is virtually impossible not to have Guscott there; he is arguably the most influential back in Lions history. Big statement, but I can’t think of anyone else, certainly not since the 1983 tour that has had such a big, direct impact on winning test series’. The try in 89 and the DG in 97. Big moments in big tests.


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