The Gods of Rugby Heaven: The wingers

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David Campese. Photo: Getty Images

David Campese (Australia) One of the greatest attacking players the game has seen. Campese played at three World Cups, but 1991 was his crowning glory, where he was named player of the tournament after scoring six tries in as many matches. However, it was for a try assist during the semi-final against the All Blacks at Lansdowne Road that he is best remembered. Campese latched on to a grubber kick from Michael Lynagh before jinking, drawing two defenders and throwing a no-look, over-the-shoulder pass to an unmarked Tim Horan, who crossed for the try. His involvement in the match-winning try by Lynagh against Ireland in the quarter-final and the only try in the final to Tony Daly have often been overlooked.

Bryan Habana. Photo: Peter Meecham

Bryan Habana (South Africa) The South African flyer with the broad shoulders, speed to burn and a swerve to die for could sniff out a try from anywhere. Every World Cup winner needs an expert finisher, and the Springbok was one of the best in 2007, where he racked up eight tries. Those performances ensured he was the first winger to be named IRB player of the year. He has scored 10 tries in 11 World Cup matches, the most by a South African. He will lace on the boots for another tilt at the William Webb Ellis trophy in 2015, in what could well be his international swansong.

John Kirwan. Photo: Alden Williams 

John Kirwan (New Zealand) Tall, fast and powerful. In the pre-Lomu era John Kirwan was considered by many to be the ultimate winger. He was also responsible for one of the most celebrated moments in World Cup history. In the first game of the first tournament in 1987 the All Blacks were hosting the Italians when Kirwan fetched a kick-off and ran 90 metres, leaving seven defenders sprawled on the turf to score one of the great individual tries in the game’s history.

Brian Lima. Photo: Craig Golding

Brian Lima (Samoa) A giant in a minnow team. Most wingers earn nicknames for their attacking prowess. However, such was Lima’s power in defence he became known as The Chiropractor. A versatile back-line player, Lima played in five World Cups and featured in his team’s two quarter-final appearances. His biggest hit was on Derick Hougaard in 2003, which left the Springboks five-eighth dazed for several minutes. But for all the talk of his hard-hitting defence, he could find the try line too, crossing 10 times in 18 World Cup matches.

Jonah Lomu. Photo: Reuters

Jonah Lomu (New Zealand) A monster of a man and a giant of the game. So awesome was Lomu’s power, he was able to transcend the game and became a well-known figure in non-rugby countries. It is somewhat unfortunate that his seemingly unstoppable runs, which yielded 16 tries at the 1995 and 1999 tournaments, did not translate into World Cup success. The iconic try in the 1995 semi-final against England, where he steamrolled fullback Mike Catt, forged the reputations of both players.

Jason Robinson. Photo: Getty Images

Jason Robinson (England) A rugby league convert who gave England an attacking edge out wide. Robinson was on the wing during England’s successful World Cup campaign in 2003, but was equally adept at fullback during the 2007 tournament. Robinson was a powerful runner whose deceptive footwork made him England’s most dangerous attacker. He is considered the benchmark in England when commentators talk of fullbacks and cross-code converts.

Joe Roff. Photo: Reuters

Joe Roff (Australia) A quiet achiever of three World Cup campaigns. Roff was an integral member of Rod Macqueen’s champion Wallabies team that won trophies for fun. He was an institution on the left wing. Fast, powerful and with a damaging fend, Roff was equally at home at fullback. His goal-kicking ability was often underestimated because it was so rarely called upon.

Rory Underwood. Photo: Reuters

Rory Underwood (England) Small, fast and consistent, Underwood’s try-scoring ability was matched only by his longevity. Underwood first appeared at the World Cup in 1987 in a poor England team, but came into his own in 1991, when he played outside the likes of Will Carling and Jeremy Guscott. He scored 11 times in 15 matches but his two tries in the semi-final of the 1995 tournament were overshadowed by the feats of Jonah Lomu.

Shane Williams. Photo: Craig Simcox

Shane Williams (Wales) The scrum-half who became a winger. A will-o’-the-wisp flyer, Williams’ reputation as a prolific try-scorer was forged under the tutelage of Steve Hansen when the current All Blacks coach held the reigns over Wales at the 2003 tournament. Williams was picked on the wing during a pool game against New Zealand in 2003 and his dazzling performance cemented his reputation. His most successful World Cup was in 2007, where he scored six tries.

Jeff Wilson. Photo: Getty Images

Jeff Wilson (New Zealand) Another winger-cum-fullback. Jeff Wilson was the ultimate professional on the wing. Mistakes were rare and try-scoring opportunities were rarely spurned. He scored nine tries in 11 World Cup games, but he unfortunately belongs to a generation of great New Zealand players who never won the William Webb Ellis Trophy. He also represented the Kiwis in one-day international and Twenty20 cricket.

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