If you are tasked with making a list of the most influential people in any discipline, your first instinct is to start with those that have excelled in their particular field.

Certainly, when it came to putting together the list of influential rugby players you can read here, there is no denying that being good and setting an example to the rest of your team is certainly an influential trait.

However, as you will read, there are other factors that can come into play, beside achievement on the pitch and lists of honours won.

So, take a look through this list of who we feel are six of the players over the last 50 years who you could argue have been truly influential, for a variety of reasons. 

1. Jonah Lomu 

It is hard to overstate the impact Jonah Lomu had on the game when he first came to prominence in 1995. 

As rugby entered the professional era, he gave the game a compelling figurehead through his extraordinary performances, and understated charisma.

He brought an almost unprecedented mix of size, speed, and skill to the game. Many had displayed two on that alliterative list, but few if any had all three. And, to cap it all, he played out on the wing!

In the game that really escalated him to international prominence, the 1995 World Cup semi-final against England, he was heavier than both England lock forwards, Martin Johnson and Martin Bayfield. Not only that, but he appeared to be quicker than both of the Underwood brothers who were playing on the wings. 

2. JPR Williams

With his long hair, sideburns, and socks round his ankles, JPR Williams presented one of the memorable images of 70s rugby.

While not quite as influential as Jonah Lomu, he makes this list for similar reasons. He developed the role of the fullback from one that tended towards defensiveness and safety first, to attacking aggression and confrontation. 

He was built like a flanker, which was actually his favourite position, and had the mentality of a forward to go with it.

He was one of the outstanding players in the Welsh side that dominated the decade, and is still a worthy name for consideration in any “best of all-time” team.

3. Richie McCaw 

Just the bald statistics of his test career confirm that Richie McCaw is worthy of consideration in any lists of top players you happen to be compiling, from simple “best of” to “most influential”.

The All Blacks won 131 out of the 148 tests he played in, with 110 of those as captain. Given how competitive test rugby has been in the modern era, those are remarkable figures.

Despite suffering from a broken foot that could have ended his career, he led them to victory in the 2011 World Cup final. Then, fully fit, he lifted the trophy again four years later.

Throughout his career, he led by example and maintained an extraordinary level of performance on the pitch.

4. Martin Johnson 

Like Richie McCaw, Martin Johnson appears on this list because of the extraordinary way he led the England side by example for over a decade. 

There were plenty of strong characters in the England teams he led, but all of them deferred unquestionably to Johnson.

He was the rock at the heart of the England scrum throughout his career, as well as leading by example on two Lions tours for good measure. 

He played in 84 tests across a period where his side won five Championship titles. He managed to retire from international rugby right at the top, finishing his career immediately after the victorious 2003 World Cup final.

5. Sonny Bill Williams 

While others have made a success of switching codes between rugby union and rugby league, no one has done it quite like Sonny Bill Williams. 

In fact, you got the impression that he could quite easily switch between the two at will on alternate weeks.

His sometimes controversial media profile and reputation for borderline illegal hits could not detract from his skill as a player. 

His offloading skills in the tackle influenced many other players in the game, and his speed and power set the template for future centres to follow.

6. Francois Pienaar 

At the time of the 1995 World Cup, Nelson Mandela had only been president of South Africa for a year, and it was clear that many in the country, particularly Afrikaners, were struggling to come to terms with the ongoing move to democracy. 

From a rugby perspective, there were concerns that overt displays of white nationalism during the World Cup could jeopardise their return to the international fold. 

So, the whole rugby world was fortunate that Francois Pienaar, with his leadership and diplomatic skills, became the figurehead for that South African side, leading to the iconic image of him and Mandela with the World Cup trophy.

He also had a big influence on the English domestic game, being one of the first big name international stars to play in the Premiership. 

Get in touch

If you want to talk to someone about your financial planning arrangements, or just want to share your views on some of the players you have read about here, then please do get in touch with us at DBL Asset Management.

Email enquiries@dbl-am.com or call 01625 529 499 to speak to us today.