The Lions have been blessed with some of the finest fullbacks ever to grace the game in JPR Williams, Andy Irvine and Mr Scotland… Gavin Hastings; however, these immortals of the sport donned the famous jersey in the amateur era and therefore can’t be considered.
When you run through the names to have worn the famous number 15 since the advent of professionalism it makes for a strange, almost eclectic mix.
Bookending the era are two Welshman, whose legacies are assured in the Lions jersey; Neil Jenkins and Leigh Halfpenny, selected in some respect from left-field. Both played enormous roles in series victories, contributing almost 30% of all points the Lions have scored in all tests in the professional era.
In between we have names like Perry, Lewsey, Murphy, Byrne, and Kearney; all good players, but none of them is likely to sit at the top table. The one player missing from the list; however, is truly special, and quite frankly can sit proudly next to the three greats from the amateur days as at least an equal, if not more.
Capped five times by the Lions, four of them on the wing and one at fullback, this man had gas, guile, and instinct; his ability to find the whitewash was remarkable and his two tries in five tests for the Lions is a testament to that.
My Lions fullback is Jason Robinson. His in-and-out to leave Chris Latham clutching at straws in Brisbane was unforgettable. How many times have you ever heard a commentator use the word lacerated to describe the actions of one man against the greatest defence in the world?
A special talent; and let’s be honest, the only Lions fullback in this era to have any sort of a chance of making an All Blacks team in that position from the same period.
All Blacks Riches
The All Blacks have had an embarrassment of riches in the 15 jersey over the last 21 years and it is with some regret that legends like Muliaina, Dagg, and Smith do not feature in my starting XV. But one player was so dominant, so electric, so ridiculously good that he changed the perception of the modern fullback forever.
The Paekakariki Express, Christian Cullen burst onto the test scene like no player had ever done before and is unlikely to ever do again. He scored seven tries in his first two tests and 21 in his first two seasons, as the All Blacks of 96-97 swept past all before them. He helped the All Blacks to a test series win in South Africa for the first time and left many of us wondering where this talent was in 95.
The first try he scored against Scotland was a staggering individual effort, showing strength and balance in equal measure. The long range try at the same venue a year later against Australia to help New Zealand to a 36-0 halftime score line, mesmerised and bamboozled the defence. And who could ever forget the team effort in Wellington in 2000?
The professional era teams are…
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
14. Jeff Wilson
15. Christian Cullen
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
14. Tommy Bowe
15. Jason Robinson
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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.