From The Vaults

15 November 2021
Power and Pace – a Dynasty of All Black Wingers

On 30th October 2021, the latest in a seemingly endless line of great All Black wingers, Will Jordan, caught the ball in his own half, accelerated and then kicked over his opponents' heads at the Principality Stadium, going on unchallenged by a bemused Welsh defence to touch down a thrilling try. In the days after the match, my mind went back over the last forty to fifty years to ponder how it is that New Zealand has produced an endless supply of outstanding try-scoring wing three quarters.

The statistics speak for themselves. In over 750 matches since 1871, England's wingers have scored around 870 tries, of which Rory Underwood contributed 49 and followers of English rugby will recall wryly that few passes reached their wingers in the 1960s and 70s. Add in the fact that all the wingers who have played for Wales in over 750 full international matches since 1881 have scored around 860 tries with Shane Williams scoring 58 of them. Only ten Englishmen and seven Welshmen have scored 20 or more tries in all those matches and yet, since 1970 alone, eleven All Black wingers between them have scored, allowing for tries scored in other positions, more than 375 tries in the 328 internationals that New Zealand have played since that date.

The roll-call is indeed a great one and a testament to the attacking abilities of successive All Black teams. The strength of Samoan-born Bryan Williams (10 tries in 38 tests) and the apparently effortless pace of Stuart Wilson (19 tries in 34 tests) in the 1970s was succeeded by the power of John Kirwan (35 tries in 63 tests) in the 1980s, a key player in the 1987 World Cup triumph and scorer of one of the all-time great tries in their opening match against Italy.

In the following decade, the exuberant all-round athleticism of Jeff Wilson (44 tries in 60 tests) combined with the awesome stature and power of Jonah Lomu (37 tries in 63 tests) to provide an additional cutting and much feared edge to All Black back play. The speed of Doug Howlett (49 tries in 62 tests) and the wizardry of the Fijians, Joe Rokocoko (46 tries in 68 tests) and Sitiveni Sivivatu (27 tries in 43 tests) then lit up the first decade of the 21st century. They were followed by the rugged power of Julian Savea (46 tries in 54 tests), elder brother of back row forward Ardie, and the stylishly balanced runner Ben Smith (39 tries in 84 tests) who featured in the 2015 and 2019 World Cups. The emergence of Rieko Ioane (30 tries in 45 tests to date), younger brother of another All Black back row forward Akira, in the year after the 2015 World Cup ensured the continuation of the line - and now there is Will Jordan who scored his 17th try in only his 12th international, against Ireland.

So what explains this extraordinary sequence? It is a given that many more tests have been played since the inauguration of the World Cup in 1987 and that some of the tests played since professionalism in 1995 have been mis-matches with the All Blacks posting huge scores against lesser opposition. But these wingers have scored many of their tries against the greatest of opponents and some were versatile enough to win a few of their caps playing at full back or in the centre. The speed with which the All Blacks transfer the ball from the back of the scrum through the hands of the three quarters to their wingers and, particularly in recent years, the willingness of those wingers to go looking for work off their wings have clearly been additional factors.

I believe there is one other explanation for the unleashing of these great try scorers. Unlike selectors in many other countries, the New Zealand selectors have been prepared to back the same player time and time again and allow them the luxury of the occasional off-day when they do not cross the try line. After all Jonah Lomu, perhaps the most formidable of all New Zealand wingers, played in 63 test matches over eight years but his 37 tries came in only 30 of those matches and he never scored a try against South Africa in his 12 tests against them. He may not have scored in 33 of his test matches but the selectors knew that he caused mayhem with his aggressive running both on and off the ball and thereby created many tries for his teammates. The test career of Jonah Lomu ended when he was only 26 but his contribution to All Black rugby and the development of the game in general was incalculable. He also proved that a winger doesn't just have to score tries.


  • Encyclopedia of New Zealand Rugby - Chester, McMillan & Palenski (Hodder Moa Beckett 3rd ed 1998)
  • Men in Black - RH Chester & NAC McMillan (Moa Beckett 5th ed 1994)
  • New Zealand Rugby Almanacks 1972-2021
  • New Zealand Rugby Museum

About the Author - A professional musician and arts administrator, Richard Steele has been on the committee of the World Rugby Museum at Twickenham since 2005 and is the co-author of the RFU's 150th anniversary book 'England Rugby 150 Years'.