Carter, Wilkinson, Barrett, Sexton: Who is the best fly-half in rugby history?


Greatness is a word that is often batted about with far too much abandon these days.

The greats of old considered it something to be earned, sweated for, bled for even. A many year slog up the proverbial mountain to the summit of the field in which they aspire to be the best.

However, for some, once they get there, they somehow find a way to keep pioneering to even headier heights, beyond the dreams of what us mere mortals could even fathom.

One of those men, is Daniel Carter.

The legendary All Black number 10 held the rugby world in the palm of his hand for many a year, speaking the language of one of the most demanding roles in sport with frightful fluency.

In a career spanning 12 years (an eternity for an All Black), Carter plundered a staggering 1598 Test points, scoring 29 tries and losing just 12 games in a 112-cap career.

He would retire in 2015 as double world champion and one of the greatest ever players the game has seen.


Enter Giveaway

On a recent appearance of the High Performance Podcast, Carter went into depth about what it takes to be great, especially in All Black jersey – one of the most demanding environments in sport.

“As an All Black, as the number one team in the world and everyone’s chasing you, there’s no such thing as an easy game.

“You know, if a team beats the number one team in the world, that’s made your season and that’s all they want. They’re always going to have their best game against the number one team in the world.


“And that’s something that South Africa are experiencing now. They’re the world champions, so everyone wants to strive to beat the world champions.

“All of a sudden, you can look at that as a world champion and go: ‘Ah man, just let us have an easy game once. I wish our opposition would just have a poor game for once.’

“But that’s not what you want. You need to embrace the anger and go: ‘Bring it on!’ Going back to that pressure, walking towards it. ‘This is great. We’re on our own destiny. They have to do something completely miraculous to try and go where we’re going.’


“Yeh, you’re going to make mistakes, you’re going to have upsets, you’re going to have losses, but we’re moving in this direction.

“It’s one thing knowing that your opponents are going to be up for every game, but just have that growth mindset of just doing what you can every single day, every game, to make sure you’re just striving to get better each day.”

Read more: The High Performance Podcast hub

With those superb sentiments ringing loud in our ears, we thought we would have a look back over the history of the game and have a go at ranking the ten greatest first five-eighths to have ever lived.

10. Naas Botha – South Africa 

Botha could have gone on to be one of the greatest the game has ever seen. Adept off both feet and with an unerring eye from the tee, his Test career would be cut short by political upheaval in his homeland.

9. Beauden Barrett – New Zealand


A controversial pick, perhaps, but you simply can’t argue that ‘Beaudy’ is one of the most skilful fly’s to have ever played the game.

He continues to drop jaws even today – his performance against Wales in his recent 100th Test was yet another testimony to the sublime talent, speed of thought and versatility of the man.

8. Grant Fox – New Zealand 

The first world champion fly-half, Fox’s skill with the boot was simply unmatched. He may not have set the world alight with ball in hand, but his kicking was capable of crippling any opposition.

7. Jonathan Sexton – Ireland


One of a duo of famous ‘Johnny’s’ on this list, Ireland stalwart Sexton is one of the few northern hemisphere stars to be named World Rugby Player of the Year in recent times.

Multiple appearances for the British and Irish Lions, coupled with some of the biggest successes Irish rugby has ever seen, make it no surprise to see Sexton considered one of the greats.

6. Mark Ella – Australia 

The greatest tale that never was. Ella retired at the budding young age of 25 as a world-renowned tactical genius.

5. Barry John – Wales 

Yet another early retiree, John called time on his remarkable career when he was just 27. His electric partnership with Gareth Edwards was one of the most supreme half-back cocktails ever concocted.

4. Michael Lynagh – Australia 


Australia’s leading point scorer, Lynagh was one of the crucial cogs in the Wallabie machine that powered to World Cup glory in 1991.

He scored an astonishing 911 points over a career spanning more than a decade.

3. Jonathan Davies 

The Welshman to end all Welshmen.

Davies’ career could have been the stuff of myth and legend had he not swapped codes for rugby league halfway through it.

Still, his two spells in union were pretty special.

2. Jonny Wilkinson


That’s ‘Sir Jonny’ to you. 

England’s planet-conquering hero, with his unique kicking style and wand of a left foot, stole the World Cup in the dying seconds with a last-gasp drop goal in Sydney.

England won 67 of the 91 games Wilkinson played in, as the now Knight of the realm inspired one of the greatest English generations with a total of 1,179 points.

1. Daniel Carter 

There could only be one winner, right? Carter revolutionised the sport and did so in one of the most sought after and competitive positions in the game.

To play even one game as an All Black 10 is to be considered great, so Carter’s lengthy career in the role just proves that no one else is worthy of his throne.

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