By Ryan Frisby and Will Evans
Commentary Box Sports rugby union team have put their heads together and come up with a line-up of the best players to never wear the black jersey.
1. Ben May
Blenheim-born May boasts 86 Super Rugby appearances for the Crusaders, Chiefs and Hurricanes, and has been a mainstay of Maori All Blacks squads since 2016. But the hulking specimen has seemingly been stuck in the second-tier of Kiwi props, and at 34 years of age the Hurricanes Super Rugby title winner’s Test hopes have slipped away.
2. Jason Rutledge
Arguably the most accurate lineout thrower of the early-2010s, Rutledge was close to making the All Blacks in 2010 after a few injuries in the No.2 ranks. His 175cm height and at the age of 32 years old went against him, but he toiled away for his beloved Southland and the Highlanders in a 14-year first-class career.
3. Clint Newland
Infamous for king hitting Neemia Tialata, Newland is a massive human being, standing at 196cm and weighing in at 134kg. The Dannevirke product spent more than a decade with Hawkes Bay and three Super Rugby seasons for the Highlanders before heading off overseas, with a Maori All Blacks cap in 2008 as close as he got to the representative heights.
4. Paul Tito
A cult hero figure with his flaming red hair, the six-foot-six Tito was a Hurricanes mainstay for eight seasons after making his Super Rugby debut with the Chiefs in 1999. A New Zealand Under-19s and Under-21s rep, Tito was a Maori All Blacks regular in the early-2000s but was unable to take the next step with the likes of Chris Jack, Brad Thorn and Ali Williams in the way.
5. Brad Shields
Has been in the All Blacks extended squad a few times now but still hasn’t received his Test cap. Already boasts 69 caps for the Hurricanes at the age of 26. Great defender and a massive threat in attack on the fringes. A specialist blindside flanker but get the nod at lock in this side.
6. Luke Braid
The younger brother of much-maligned All Black Daniel, Luke Braid was extremely underrated in my opinion – a workhorse who topped both the run and tackle counts in most games. He was never going to replace Richie McCaw, but lost out to Sam Cane for the role of heir to the throne and slipped behind the likes of Matt Todd and Ardie Savea in the pecking order.
7. Duane Monkley
While overrated coaches pets like Liam Barry, Mike Brewer and Blair Larsen continually got the call-ups to All Blacks touring squads in the early-1990s, one of the country’s most dynamic flankers was left out time and again. The relentless No.7 played 135 games for Waikato – the province named its player of the year medal in Monkley’s honour – and the fact he never received a black jumper is little short of a travesty.
8. Nasi Manu
It’s pretty easy to notice Manu on the field with that afro. The Christchurch Boys’ High product was an inspirational leader for the Highlanders after starting out with the Crusaders, taking the ball forward and making those tough tackles. Continuous injuries held back his career and he never got a gig in the national team, but his role as co-captain in the Highlanders’ 2015 triumph gives him an eternal place in the franchise’s folklore.
9. Brett Iti
Iti was the halfback for the dominant Auckland sides of the late-1980s, but Canterbury pair Bruce Deans and Graeme Bachop were preferred by the All Blacks following the retirement of World Cup-winning skipper David Kirk. He accepted an offer from English rugby league powerhouse Bradford Northern in 1990, robbing himself of an almost certain All Blacks call-up with inferior Auckland successors Jason Hewett and Ant Strachan and North Harbour’s Paul McGahan winning their national spurs in the early-1990s.
10. Glen Jackson
Yep, Glen Jackson the referee. In 2004, Jackson led his undermanned Bay of Plenty side to Ranfurly Shield victory and was easily the best No.10 in the NPC (Mitre 10 Cup). After not being picked for the All Blacks, the Chiefs stalwart cashed in on his form by signing with Saracens and scoring over 1,500 points win six seasons before picking up the whistle.
11. Rupeni Caucaunibuca
This one wasn’t the All Blacks selectors fault – Rupeni rejected them in 2003 to play for his native Fiji at the World Cup. A mystical player in the Jonah Lomu category, ‘Rups’ was a tryscoring freak for Northland and the Blues, before going on to have a long career in France. He could have been one of the all-time greats if not for his penchant for going AWOL, which sullied his tenure in the Fiji national side.
12. Richard Buckman
In the extended Test squad currently, Buckman is not your typically natural rugby player. ‘The Barracuda’ looks awkward, but every coach that has coached him has said that things just happen around him. He has X-factor and a knack for getting the ball to bounce his way, while he is also extremely versatile and a key part of the Highlanders’ resurgence in recent years.
13. John Leslie
He got an international cap, but it wasn’t for New Zealand. Leslie played 23 games for Scotland after eight seasons as the midfield marshal for Otago in the 1990s. Unable to crack the All Blacks, he decided to join the ‘Kilted Kiwis’ and take up eligibility through a paternal grandfather. Leslie was Conrad Smith before Conrad Smith was Conrad Smith…if you know what I mean.
14. Brendan Laney
A bit of a lair but hugely talented, ‘Chainsaw’ Laney was a genuine game-breaker and an absolute delight to watch – but his enigmatic tendencies meant he never really seemed a good fit for the ABs. Boasting devastating footwork and good goalkicking ability, the Otago and Highlanders utility-back joined Edinburgh in 2001 and played 20 Tests for Scotland.
15. Daryl Halligan
As well as top-liners like John Gallagher and Craig Innes who took advantage of rugby league’s riches in the early-1990s, there were a number of second-tier players who switched codes after getting the shits with the lack of opportunities in the All Blacks. Despite Gallagher and understudy Matthew Ridge taking up the 13-man game in 1990, Waikato’s goalkicking fullback Daryl Halligan couldn’t get a tour spot with the New Zealand side, instead watching nondescript No.15s Kieran Crowley and Shayne Philpott go away to France. Halligan went on to become a record-breaking point-scorer for North Sydney and Canterbury in the Australian premiership, and played 20 Tests for the Kiwis. Frustrated fringe All Blacks Eion Crossan and Gavin Hill – both high-performing provincial stars – followed Halligan to the Winfield Cup in 1992.