The Gods of Rugby Heaven: The fullbacks

Safe pair of hands: Matthew Burke. Photo: Allsport Can you match the experts?
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Matthew Burke. Photo: Tim Clayton

Matthew Burke (Australia) A versatile back and an accomplished outside centre in his youth, Burke made the fullback position his own at the 1999 World Cup where he scored 101 points. Safe under the high ball, a good defender and powerful runner, Burke was also an accomplished goalkicker and this ability was crucial in the Wallabies’ second World Cup triumph. While Stephen Larkham’s drop goal in extra time in the semi-final against the Springboks is oft remembered, Burke’s eight penalty goals from as many attempts proved far more valuable.

Gavin Hastings. Photo: Getty Images

Gavin Hastings (Scotland) Arguably Scotland’s greatest ever player. It is no coincidence the men in dark blue’s greatest moments at the World Cup occurred when Hastings was at the back. Hastings was in the thick of it when the Scots tied with France in the first World Cup in Christchurch in 1987; his prodigious boot and prolific scoring led Scotland to a semi-final appearance in 1991, while his 44 points against Cote d’Ivoire in 1995 was a World Cup record. He could read the game in attack and defence and could time his run into a hole perfectly. He was among the top three scorers in each of the three World Cups he featured in.

John Gallagher (right). Photo: AP

John Gallagher (New Zealand) At the inaugural World Cup in 1987, the All Blacks were barely challenged as they steamrolled their way to their first title. Gallagher made his debut in the opening game against Italy and became a key player in one of New Zealand’s greatest teams. A running fullback, Gallagher could chime into the backline and wreak havoc at will such as when he scored four tries in a pool game against Fiji. His speed and sense of timing made him a dangerous player and the All Blacks were undefeated in all 18 Tests he played. Gallagher switched to rugby league club Leeds shortly after being named IRB player of the year in 1990.

Serge Blanco. Photo: Quentin Jones

Serge Blanco (France) France’s greatest fullback. In an age of attacking mavericks, Blanco was the magician. He was not a renowned defender or kicker but his unpredictability in attack brought fear to the opposition. One of the iconic images of the 1987 World Cup was during the semi-final against Australia, when a tired Blanco was slumped in the corner of Concord Oval, overcome by emotion, after he beat a horde of Wallabies defenders to the left corner to score the winning try in the dying seconds. He went on to captain France at the 1991 World Cup where he played the last of his 93 internationals against England in the quarter-finals.

Percy Montgomery. Photo: Getty Images

Percy Montgomery (South Africa) An oft-maligned player early in his career, Montgomery’s performances at the 2007 World Cup, where he was the tournament’s leading scorer, added class to longevity on his resume. He was the first Springbok to reach 100 caps and although he was a handy goalkicker, it was his flamboyant running that provided flair to a team that was more renowned for its toughness and pragmatism. Montgomery played in the 1999 World Cup, but missed the 2003 tournament because he did not meet the Springboks’ eligibility criteria.

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