Who is the greatest rugby union player to have featured at the Rugby World Cup? It is a question that has no answer, at least no definitive one, as every man and woman will have their own criteria to what constitutes the greatest.
At The Independent, we asked that exact question and argued how to come up with the answer, and following the success of our Premier League 100, decided on producing something similar ahead of Japan 2019.
But the two sports work in very different ways, so we needed a new criteria in place to determine what separated the good from the exceptional.
This will be the ninth instalment of the Rugby World Cup, but the pool of players available – while huge – becomes quite constricted when you take into account the four-tournament veterans such as Alun Wyn Jones, Os du Randt, Richie McCaw and Jason Leonard.
But how much should longevity be taken into account over other key elements such as providing the big memorable moments, setting and breaking records and, ultimately, winning World Cups?
Then there the icons of the game who managed to transcend the sport and influence far more than they could have ever imagined, which arguably is more powerful and life-changing than anything they could achieve on a rugby pitch.
The transformation of the game from amateur to professionalism in 1995 brought with it a shift in how the sport was being viewed. Suddenly, the Rugby World Cup became a household event, not least because the first professional tournament took place in South Africa in what was the country’s first major tournament to be hosted since the abolition of apartheid.
Fast-forward 16 years, and New Zealand 2011 carried with it far more importance than simply who would be crowned world rugby champions, given how the city of Christchurch had been so badly impacted by the devastating earthquakes. Once again, sport didn’t seem to matter, and yet it did as giants of the game stood up above the rest as a beacon of hope: it will come as no surprise to learn that the Pienaars, Williams’ and McCaws all feature high up the list.
But who else has earned a place in the top 100? The Rugby World Cup is of course a global affair that brings out the best in the sport. Players from Georgia, Samoa, Argentina and beyond are all included, and as the global expansion of rugby union continues, this list should get more diverse as the years go by. Fittingly, Japanese players feature ahead of their first home World Cup – a reflection of how much that miraculous day in Brighton four years ago put the Land of the Rising Sun on the map.
To count down towards Friday’s curtain-raiser between Japan and Russia, we’ll release 20 players each day this week before unveiling the No 1 Rugby World Cup player on Friday morning – as well as an in-depth interview with the man voted the greatest Rugby World Cup player in history to reflect on his career at the top of the game.