Men’s rugby’s Best International Captains – Part One

Best International Captains
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Thomas Booth looks at the Best International Captains through the history of the current top ten internationally ranked men’s sides in world rugby. Part one starts with the side ranked ten (Japan), and counts down to the fifth-ranked international team (England).

After ruminating on the why’s and wherefores of this article, why not check out Robert Rees’ rundown of the Top 20 rugby union countries with the most registered players. The findings might surprise you!

Countdown begins – No. 10: Japan

Shortlist: Seiji Hirao, Michael Leitch, Takashi Kikutani, Toshiaki Hirose.

Japan’s best: Michael Leitch

Look no further than the current figurehead, Michael Leitch. He is @tboothy‘s selection as Japan’s Best International Captain. Leitch has led the Japanese on 35 occasions and has a very healthy win percentage of 68.28.

Whilst skipper, Japan, has claimed some notable scalps in games of significance. South Africa, Ireland, and Scotland have lost to the Brave Blossoms in Rugby World Cups. Japan also held the French to a draw in Paris in the 2017 end-of-year internationals.

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Leitch is originally from New Zealand. He moved to Japan as a teenager and is now a Japanese citizen. Takashi Kikutani and Toshiaki Hirose both have comparable win percentages as Leitch (Hirose captained Japan to a victory over Wales in 2013), however, it’s Leitch’s performances, and as a result, Japan’s resurgence that puts him a rung higher on the ladder than his compatriots.

No. 9: Wales

Shortlist: Alun Wyn Jones, Sam Warburton, John Dawes, Mervyn Davies, Phil Bennett.

Wales’ best: Mervyn Davies

This decision was made difficult because of the difficulty of comparing eras. Would the merits of Alun Wyn Jones and Sam Warburton supersede the qualities of John Dawes, Mervyn Davies and Phil Bennett; leaders during Wales’ golden age?

The elder statesmen have a better win percentage but didn’t play as many times as the aforementioned newer breed. Click on the link above to read Robert Rees’ article on Warburton’s retirement in 2018.

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Thomas Booth has selected the great Welsh number Eight, Mervyn ‘The Swerve’ Davies. He made 38 appearances for Wales and eight appearances for the Lions. Mervyn Davies captained Wales nine times, winning eight of those matches and leading them to a Grand Slam in 1976.

Davies was held in high esteem for his participation in the successful Lions’ tours of 1971 to New Zealand, where he starved the All-Blacks of the ball at the back of the lineout, and South Africa in 1974.

No. 8: Argentina

Shortlist: Lisandro Arbizu, Hugo Porta, Agustin Pichot, Felipe Contepomi, Hector Silva, Agustin Creevy.

Los Pumas greatest leader: Agustin Pichot

Argentina has been highly competitive on the international stage for a long time. Our shortlist has World Cup semi-finalists Agustin Pichot (2007), and Agustin Creevy (2015) in the mix, as well as Pumas legend Hugo Porta. During Porta’s time, Argentina overcame France and Australia three times each and was victorious against England once (drawing one also).

Hector Silva has the greatest win percentage of them all but was the figurehead on only fifteen occasions. He would have had more caps had it not been for an appearance in a television advert during what was then, the amateur era. This resulted in him not being selected for the national team for a period of six years between 1971 and 1977. In a similar fashion to the sanctioned period of Muhammad Ali, this was when Silva was at his physical peak.

Yet each of them must stand secondary to the charismatic Pichot.

Pichot is a fantastic servant to Argentinian and global rugby, both on and off the field. He was pushed hard by the others on the shortlist, but he is Booth’s pic as Los Pumas best International Captain. Argentina had a 60 percent win ratio while he was leading on the pitch.

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He was captain during Argentina’s best-ever showing on the global stage. A third-place during the World Cup of 2007 which included beating France on their patch twice in a row. Some other notable wins came against England at Twickenham in 2006, and a 2-0 series success against Wales on home soil, also in 2006.

No. 7: Scotland

Shortlist: David Sole, Colin Deans, Jim Aitken, Peter Brown, Gavin Hastings, Finlay Calder.

Scotland’s best: David Sole

A tricky task this. Attention was drawn to the Scottish halcyon days of the mid-eighties to the early nineties. However, Scotland was captained by different men in their triumphs of that time, which made this decision a close-run thing.

They achieved Grand Slam glory in 1984 with Jim Aitken as captain. The first time a Grand Slam had been won since 1925. In 1986 they shared the Five Nations spoils with France when Colin Deans led the side. In 1990, David Sole captained the Scots to their third Grand Slam 1990 and he skippered them in their best World Cup showing to date. The fourth place in 1991.

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David Sole is Booth’s selection as Scotland’s best International CaptainSome of the tactical and psychological masterstrokes during his time as skipper during the Grand Slam year of 1990 included: His team not speaking to the press for the entirety of the build-up to the decider against England, and the legendary slow walk onto the pitch prior to the anthems and kick-off. As well as Sole’s achievements with Scotland, he was part of a front-row that won a Lions series in Australia in 1989.

No.6 : Australia

Shortlist: John Eales, Nick Farr-Jones, Andrew Slack.

World Cup hero: John Eales

An esteemed group, Andrew Slack is respected for his forthright game, while Nick Farr-Jones was a cerebal commander who re-established the Wallabies as a force in World rugby. Yet they must sit back, and applaud the LWOR choice.

One of a select few to have won the Rugy World Cup twice, John Eales is Booth’s pick as Australian Best International Captain. Have you got your John Eales bingo card at the ready? He was given the moniker, ‘nobody’ by his peers – as in “nobody’s perfectnobody’s perfect“. Now we’ve got that out of the way, let’s examine the evidence of his elevated status within rugby.

Eales used his athletic ability, allied to strong discipline, to great effect. He captained the Wallabies 55 times, retiring after helping them defeat the British & Irish Lions in 2001. This series win went along with his 1991 and 1999 Rugby World Cup medals. Eales played for Australia a total of 86 times. They won 66 times, losing 18 and drawing twice for a win percentage of 77.90.

Watch Eales above dissect the posts with a high-pressure penalty kick, in the final moments of a career best,  Bledisloe Cup victory in 2000.

No. 5: England

Shortlist: Will Carling, Martin Johnson, Bill Beaumont, Dylan Hartley.

England’s best: Martin Johnson

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Grand Slam winners all, however, Last Word on Rugby couldn’t look past the fearsome Lion himself, Martin Johnson.

He developed his craft out in New Zealand, where they tried to assimilate him into their rugby fold. On his return to England, he became a club legend at Leicester (winning back-to-back Heineken Cups, and four consecutive Premiership titles), while leading England to Six Nations Championship and Grand Slam glory. Who can forget his refusal to budge during the pre-match preliminaries (when asked to) in a match against Ireland with the Grand Slam on the line in 2003.

Then came the successful Australasia tour in the summer of 2003. Johnson and Clive Woodward’s England beat both Australia and New Zealand in their own backyard. Relive the game against New Zealand below:

To cap it all off, England became the only team thus far from the Northern Hemisphere to reach the international pinnacle of rugby, winning the Rugby World Cup in 2003, with Johnson leading from the front.

Alongside these pretty remarkable statistics was his captaincy of a successful Lions side that toured South Africa in 1997. Johnson was a straight talker. Here’s a quote from him following England’s Rugby World Cup success.

“Do you expect me to have some Churchill-type speech in my pocket for such moments,” Johnson said with a wry smile after he was asked what he told his England pack in the 2003 final. “I told them to bend over and push.”


Enjoyed that? Then go straight to our Part Two feature.

Men’s rugby’s best International Captains – part two. ‘Best of the best’

Here, Thomas Booth will count down the Best International Captains from the team’s World Rugby ranked fourth globally (Ireland) to the team sitting at the top, South Africa.


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