Top 10 Most Exciting Rugby Players To Watch
A lot has been written about the game with the oval ball. It stirs all the emotions, from extreme happiness to extreme anger and everything in between. Grown men cry when their team wins, and also when they lose.
Rugby involves several skills found in other games—kicking, like what footballers do, and catching and passing, like basketballers. What makes it stand out from many other games is that in rugby, you can run with the ball—and tackle people head-on. This is the most fun part of the game, but it requires a bit of courage as well, because you’re likely to end up more sore than when you first started.
There have been brilliant players who have played rugby through the years, and there have been the extreme greats – those players who everyone just agreed were absolutely phenomenal. There is quite literally a smorgasbord of incredible feats of skill, athleticism and, in some cases, good fortune in rugby.
But not all rugby players who are on that list, is or was always the most exciting players to watch. Some of those who have sparked magic on the field, were not the big names.
We take a look at ten players who we feel were some of the most exciting around to watch. While making our list, we salvaged through old and new video clips to find the top ten most exciting rugby players to watch, ever.
So without further ado, here’s our countdown of the most exciting rugby to watch that have ever graced the sport. And we have to warn you, not all the names will be big, well-known names. But we invite you to go and look at some footage available online of them and we know that you will agree with us.
10. Takudzwa Ngwenya (USA)
When South Africa met the United States in the 2007 World Cup, eyes were on superstar Springbok Bryan Habana, but it was his opposite number that won this mini-battle as Takudzwa Ngwenya’s wonder run led to the USA’s first try of the match.
Everything about this try was perfect: the fact that it started from an interception which would have been a try for the Springboks had the player not made it, the massive hand off, the second row running 50 odd metres from the back to make up ground, the huge perfectly placed pass from the 10, and the one on one from Ngwenya outpacing arguably the greatest winger in the world at the time.
It was a moment in rugby history that Ngwenya will cherish forever. The sequence was like a dance… shoulder feint inside, small step out, counter step in, angle outside, tightrope walk on the line, and try.
Ngwenya moved to America from what he described as a very difficult life in Zimbabwe.
He attended college in Dallas, and was quickly noticed for speed and ability to break a game open. Green, skinny, shy, he emerged as a seasoned professional with strength as well as pace, and one of the most recognizable personalities in the American game.
9. Jonah Lomu (New Zealand)
Jonah Lomu, the hulking New Zealand winger who died in 2015 from kidney disease, dragged rugby union into the modern era with the same ferocity he used to trample opposing players.
Hailed as the sport’s first global superstar, he shot to international fame at the 1995 World Cup in South Africa, a year after becoming the youngest ever All Black at the age of 19 years and 45 days.
At his peak, the 1.96 metre (six foot five inch) Lomu weighed 120 kilograms and could cover 100 metres in 10.8 seconds, providing a combination of speed and power that terrorised opponents.
While New Zealand ultimately lost to hosts South Africa in the 1995 final, the tournament’s defining image was of Lomu trampling over a hapless Mike Catt on his way to four tries in the All Blacks’ semi-final win over England.
Shortly after his breakthrough 1995 tournament, he was diagnosed with the rare kidney disorder nephrotic syndrome, which eventually cut short his career.
The winger estimated that, even at his best, the condition left him playing at 80 percent capacity, feeling constantly drained and taking days to recover from training sessions.
Lomu was inducted into the World Rugby Hall of Fame in 2011, when the sport’s governing body said he had left an indelible mark on the World Cup.
That same year, Britain’s Sunday Times hailed him as the most influential player in rugby history, crediting him with boosting the game’s popularity as it made a difficult transition to professionalism after more than a century as an amateur code.
“It is said that one man never changes history, not even a man as remarkable as Lomu. But because of his magnificence and because of the time and the place, he drove rugby into a new era,” the newspaper said.
8. Brian O’Driscoll (Ireland)
Former Irish professional rugby union player Brian O’Driscoll is widely regarded as the best outside center in rugby history. His popularity and fan support were so vast that his admirers attended his matches wearing T-shirts bearing the motto “In BOD We Trust.”
He was one of the world’s greatest rugby players for 14 glorious years. From the sublime hat-trick he scored against France in 2000 to secure Ireland’s first victory in Paris in 28 years, his brilliance and courage lit up European rugby. He played his final Test in 2014, again in Paris, when he helped Ireland win the Six Nations title. It was a fitting finale to a career of 141 caps, 133 for Ireland and eight for the Lions.
From underage prodigy to Grand Slam winner, Champions Cup winner and Irish captain, O’Driscoll accomplished just about as much as you can squeeze into a career.
He played with a fearless heart and he created magic with a rugby ball. His opponents never knew what he was going to do next. He could be passing the ball through his legs to a teammate, and often displaying soccer skills with a rugby ball in full flight. He was a magical player to watch.
7. Sonny Bill Williams (New Zealand)
Sonny Bill Williams will be remembered as one of the most creative and destructive midfielders to ever play for the All Blacks. He had amazing hands and an eye for the gap. Unfortunately he had to battle with Ma’a Nonu for the All Blacks’ no. 12 jersey. If it wasn’t for Nonu’s brilliance, Williams would have dominated the position.
His impact on rugby – union and league – was immense, with his 58 New Zealand caps and two World Cup titles not really reflecting his iconic status. He had come from rugby league with a gift for offloading, the likes of which union had not seen and has not since and went on to be hailed as The Offload King.
Former All Blacks coach Steve Hansen rated Williams the best athlete he had ever worked with.
Williams was renowned for his miracle one-handed offloads and fierce tackling, also earning a reputation as one of the most dedicated trainers in sport.
6. Jonny Wilkinson (England)
A warrior on the field, Wilkinson worked harder than any player in his time. He made himself into a hero for children and adults alike.
Not a big-boned man, but none tackled with more tenacity and nobody dragged their tired body up, again and again, to be in the right place for the match-winning kick, from which he never spurned responsibility.
Wilkinson was not just known for his goal-kicking.
His defence made him the hardest-tackling fly-half in world rugby during his prime, and that was never better evidenced than in this Six Nations clash with France.
The crowning moment of Wilkinson’s career came in the 2003 World Cup final when he kicked England to glory with his last-minute drop goal in extra-time.
During the game he amassed 17 points and set up Jason Robinson for his first half try.
Under intolerable pressure, Wilkinson’s tireless hours of practice and obsession to detail bore fruit with that swing of his wrong foot to claim the Webb Ellis Trophy.
5. Schalk Brits (South Africa)
One of the quickest and most dynamic hookers in rugby, the former Saracens and South Africa star was an outstanding player. The former Stormers No 2 was like an extra back row forward with his deft handling skills, excellent support play and explosive runs.
He was a dynamic hooker with that trademark step that foiled many opponents. Brits made over 200 appearances for Saracens, winning two European Champions Cups and four English Premiership titles over the course of a nine-year stint with the club. Having been a mainstay at Saracens for close to a decade, Brits is regarded as one of the best-ever foreign imports to the English Premiership.
Blessed with speed and vision, the hands of a quality midfield playmaker and an attitude that inspires his teammates, Brits was always a popular figure. He was referred
After concluding his time in the northern hemisphere, Brits came out of retirement to play for the Boks in June 2018, before featuring for the Vodacom Bulls in Super Rugby earlier this season. Having rolled back the years, the 38-year-old was then appointed to lead the Boks in a World Cup warm-up against Los Pumas – in the process becoming the second-oldest Springbok captain in history.
4. Zinzan Brooke (New Zealand)
Zinzan Brooke is widely considered as one of the best flankers in the history of rugby union.
It was at the 1995 Rugby World Cup in South Africa that Zinzan Brooke really became a folk hero to many. Yes, that drop goal.
Name another forward who would have the skills and cognitive ability to think, “I might just have a crack at this”! One of the great Rugby World Cup moments of all time.
Zinzan fielded the ball on the bounce on his side of the half-way, with momentum he launched into the kick 48 metres from the goal posts.
He was also a master try scorer. His 17 tries in Tests was a record for a forward and at one stage had scored eight tries in seven games. Many of his first class tries were scored from the back of the scrum with pushover tries, but he also scored from broken play.
One against South Africa was memorable for the audacity of it, a quick tap for a penalty then a surge for the line. He had brilliant control at the back of the pack and there was little the opposition could do to prevent a try. The All Blacks scored several tries from a scissors move that involved three players including Brooke, who often crossed the line unopposed because the opposition could not work out who had the ball.
3. Dan Carter (New Zealand)
The perfect 10. Dan Carter finally retired in 2020 after a career that saw him become arguably the greatest fly-half of all time. In his prime, he was known for his incredible game management, kicking skills, smooth handling, and running ability.
Carter passed like a scrum-half, hit like a flanker; sprinted, stepped and finished like a winger in attack; caught, kicked and tackled like a full-back in defence. You get fly-halves who kick, fly-halves who run, fly-halves who pass, you get some who kick goals, some who score tries, some who set them up, some who start attacks and some who end them. Carter did all of it. The great fly-halves are all good in different ways, Carter was good in every way.
Carter used to deploy high kicks from his own 22, allowing his teammates to compete. As a kicker, Carter had the tools to control the game so well. He also dropped eight goals in his 112 caps. Two of those came in his final two matches when he was practically hobbling around on just one leg. That’s the mark of a composed player.
2. Cheslin Kolbe (South Africa)
Kolbe is regarded by many rugby pundits to be the best rugby player in the world. He is an entertainer who fills stadiums. He has proved that bigger is not necessarily better.
At the end of the 2019 season, he won every major award in French rugby.
He was named Top 14 Player of the year and best Top 14 Player at the 2019 World Cup. He was also the recipient of the best try of the season.
He was also a unanimous choice among the French rugby media for being the best foreign player in France’s Top 14 and is considered one of the greatest foreign signings in Toulouse and French club rugby’s history.
The Toulouse locals and French rugby media have only ever applauded his attacking brilliance, his versatility as a player who can slot in at fullback, flyhalf and his preferred wing position and has even played scrumhalf on occasion.
He has been a giant in France.
1. Antoine Dupont (France)
The Toulouse scrumhalf has elevated his status to one of the game’s must watch players with the way he is able to produce plays that seem impossible including a laser beam of a pass that stunned the rugby world in the Six Nations against Ireland earlier in the year.
The Frenchman was named World Rugby Player of the Year for 2021, only the third Frenchman to win the award after his head coach Fabien Galthié (2002) and Thierry Dusautoir a decade ago.
As scrum-half and latterly captain, Dupont has been at the heart of the French revival in 2021 that culminated in the final Test of the Autumn Nations Series being an historic 40-25 victory over New Zealand.
He is known for his brilliant runs, audacious offloads and appetite for the try line.
The inherent genius of French rugby that is Dupont has been on display for the world to see the last few months, and that chutzpah isn’t limited to just the international team, often producing sublime pieces of skill.
‘I’ve seen all the best No 9s and Antoine Dupont’s up there with the greats’, said iconic scrum-half Sir Gareth Edwards.
“He is an unusual mix in that he can literally do it all. He is an extremely competent, intelligent, all-round rugby player who is also blessed with very special skills and attributes — incredible strength for a small man, a steam piston hand off, great pace when he needs it, the toughness to absorb big hits and that spatial awareness and anticipation to know where he needs to be in five and ten seconds time. I suppose we call that instinct.”