Written by Max Sharp.
The Black Jersey has held an annual vote for an all-time All Blacks XV, the lineup is determined by our followers' votes on Instagram stories. Firstly, followers will be asked to vote on wether they wish to have 22 players or 23 players, a lock or loose forward in jersey number 19, then which kinds of backs they want to wear jerseys 22 and 23.
The second-to-last section of players picked for this All-Time XV, will be the midfielders. The midfield nominees were particularly difficult to pick, there haven't been a huge amount of world-class second-fives, or centres, to wear a black jersey. Not many pairs lasted long in the amateur era, whereas with the exception of 2008-15, All Blacks coaches and selectors have found the midfield a headache when picking the team, the selection of Christian Cullen at 13 in 1999 springs to mind, as does Sam Tuitupou's omission from the 2007 Rugby World Cup squad. But on the bright side, our best halves have been king and queen of the chess board, with our greatest-ever midfielders their rooks. Let's have a nice, positive reflection on the nominees I have indeed found!
Rieko Ioane, nominated for the 13 jersey, is still 24 years old, he is pictured with a grin warming up for a Blues fixture. Photo: Max Sharp.
* denotes that the player is still active at professional level.
Alama Ieremia (1994-2000), 30 test caps
Walter Little (1990-98), 50 test caps
Sonny Bill Williams (2010-19), 58 test caps
Ron Elvidge (1946-50), 9 test caps
Aaron Mauger (2001-07), 45 test caps
Ma'a Nonu MNZM (2003-15), 103 test caps*
Warwick Taylor (1983-88), 24 test caps
Ryan Crotty (2013-19), 48 test caps*
Ron Elvidge proved himself as a fine leader in the post-war era, he likely would have played far more games if not for early retirement due to injury, his impact lasted until the debuts of Taylor (a 1987 World Cup winner) and Little. The pair were able to become great entertainers for the crowd, as well as a second decision-making voice for their team mates. Ieremia, capable of playing both 12 and 13, had a respectable career; he now coaches Auckland. Mauger and Crotty's playing styles were reminiscent of Taylor and Little before them, they had the skill sets of a 10, but their distribution had to go to second receiver, though Crotty did indeed shift to 13 many times, to partner Williams in midfield, their skillsets were very complimentary. Finally, Ma'a Nonu would be my pick as our greatest-ever midfielder, he possessed the combined skill set of every other player nominated for the jersey.
Joe Stanley (1986-90), 27 test caps
Tana Umaga ONZM (1997-2005), 74 test caps
Bruce Robertson (1972-81), 34 test caps
Bob Deans (1905-08), 5 test caps
Frank Bunce (1992-97), 55 test caps
Rieko Ioane (2016-21), 47 test caps*
Conrad Smith MNZM (2004-15), 94 test caps
Anton Lienert-Brown (2016-21), 56 test caps*
The All Blacks centres of today inherited a great legacy of Deans', he was well on his way to being the captain, this was however, prevented by his death aged just 24 in 1908. A great All Black centre did not appear until Robertson's debut, Robertson, an All Black captain, scored 30 tries from 102 matches (although only 32 were tests). Stanley (a World Cup winner) and Bunce provided serious impact from 13 on the way to the professional era, Umaga succeeded Bunce and became the All Blacks' most talented ever centre. Although the most talented was Umaga, Smith's career proved to be the glue holding the backline together. The other two nominees are still playing, Lienert-Brown could possibly overtake McCaw as the most-capped All Black, while if anyone overtakes Doug Howlett's try-scoring record, it'll be Ioane.