The gods of rugby heaven: The openside flankers


Schalk Burger. Photo: Getty Images

Schalk Burger (South Africa)

Dynamic, robust and physical … three words that define Schalk Burger.

Although many who have played against the Springbok openside flanker may have other words to describe the two-times South African rugby player of the year recipient.

Since his 2003 debut for the Springboks against Georgia in the World Cup that was held in Australia, Burger has established himself as one of the major benchmark flankers in the world game.

That was due in a large to his energetic and high work-rate that in his early days often saw him run foul of the referee. Now 32, Burger has 79 Test caps to his name.

Thierry Dusautoir. Photo: Getty Images

Thierry Dusautoir (France)

A strong ball carrier, Thierry Dusautoir, now 33, was born in Abidjan on the Ivory Coast.

The son of a French father and Ivorian mother, he began rugby at age 16 after a childhood in which his favourite sport was judo.

He debuted for France in a Test against Romania on June 17, 2006. The 75-capped player is arguably best known for his try against the All Blacks in the 2007 World Cup quarter-final at Cardiff in which he made 38 tackles.

Dusautoir also captained France to the 2011 Rugby World Cup final against New Zealand in which he scored France’s only try in the 47th minute.

Michael Jones. Photo: Simon Alekna

Michael Jones (New Zealand)

So talented was Michael Jones, former All Blacks coach John Hart called him “almost the perfect rugby player”.

While his international debut was for Western Samoa in 1986, Jones – now 50 and nicknamed the ‘Ice Man’ because he so often needed ice packs for injuries – first played for New Zealand in the 1987 World Cup, playing four games.

While early in his career he was a brilliant openside flanker, scoring 13 international tries, he moved to the blindside when speed and injuries caught up with him.

His last Test was against Australia at the end of 1989 and in late 1999 he retired.

Richie McCaw. Photo: Getty Images

Richie McCaw (New Zealand)

The current All Blacks captain, Richie McCaw, 34, earned his 142nd Test cap against Australia in Auckland in August, a stand-alone record in world rugby.

Thought of by many as the greatest openside flanker of all time, McCaw is a veritable master at the breakdown.

He also has incredible vision and ability to read a referee’s interpretation of the law that often frustrates the opposition.

McCaw played his first Test in 2001 against Ireland in the All Blacks’ spring tour. After his World Cup debut in 2003, he has led the All Blacks since 2006 and through the 2007 and 2011 World Cups.

George Smith. Photo: Simon Alekna

George Smith (Australia)

George Smith, 35, is still playing professional rugby in a career that began with his debut for the Brumbies in 2000. He recently signed with London club Wasps after two seasons at Lyon in France.

Smith played at the Brumbies for 12 years over two spells – from 2000 to 2010 and then in 2013 when he returned after playing for Toulon in France and Suntory in Japan.

His Test career also kicked off in 2000 against France and led to him earning 111 caps, his last on July 6, 2013, against the British and Irish Lions.

A breakdown wizard, he was long considered the Wallabies’ most valued player, also due to his ability to adapt to numerous positions.

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