• Help Support The Rugby Forum :

Best scrum-half of all time?

sCriv

Academy Player
Joined
May 7, 2019
Messages
67
Reaction score
4
Country Flag

England

Club or Nation

Northampton

Apologies for the dreaded all-time debate, but I was just reading an article online about this subject, and consequently the debate between many of the readers.

The four names that kept cropping up time and again on the comments section were

Gareth Edwards
George Gregan
Peter Stringer
Joost Van Der Westhuizen

I wondered what everybody on here might think on this subject.

Admittedly a tough call and bit of a pointless comparison. I don't usually like these sorts of debates, but I was just interested to hear the opinions of proper Rugby enthusiasts rather than the facebook scroller casuals.


My personal opinion is that it is virtually impossible to compare players from different generations, as the sport has evolved so much over the years.
I would say, though, in general, that the standard now is arguably the highest it has ever been, especially compared with the amateur years. Take any top player from today and he would be able to play at that high level in any era, but I'm not convinced that players from the 60's/70's could mix it up with the top guys today.

Discuss.
 

The Alpha Bro

Fat Boi
TRF Legend
Joined
Dec 3, 2010
Messages
12,786
Reaction score
3,447
Country Flag

Ireland

Club or Nation

Leinster

Who the **** said Stringer?...

You more or less hit the nail on the head in your last sentence, the amateurs from the middle of last century would be at best good amateurs today, player sizes have grown massively in the last 40 years in all physical sports. Edwards v Gregan is therefore not really a conversation worth having.
 

sCriv

Academy Player
Joined
May 7, 2019
Messages
67
Reaction score
4
Country Flag

England

Club or Nation

Northampton

Who the **** said Stringer?...

You more or less hit the nail on the head in your last sentence, the amateurs from the middle of last century would be at best good amateurs today, player sizes have grown massively in the last 40 years in all physical sports. Edwards v Gregan is therefore not really a conversation worth having.

This was pretty much exactly my thoughts too.
 

Umaga's Witness

First XV
TRF Legend
Joined
Dec 3, 2012
Messages
1,270
Reaction score
516
Country Flag

New Zealand

Club or Nation

Hurricanes

Yep, not to mention you can’t judge people you’ve never seen play. The best you can do is judge from who you have seen, and judge by their relative influence at the time. I’ve been watching the game since the early nineties, and in that time I’d have to say fourie du Preez. There’s been a lot of great players, but du Preez at his peak controlled a game better than anyone before or since and was an excellent defender too.
 

TRF_heineken

RIP #J9
TRF Legend
TRF Supporter
Joined
Apr 9, 2010
Messages
11,373
Reaction score
1,240
Country Flag

South Africa

Club or Nation

South Africa

Was just Joost mentioned from the South African contingent? What about Fourie Du Preez?
 

sCriv

Academy Player
Joined
May 7, 2019
Messages
67
Reaction score
4
Country Flag

England

Club or Nation

Northampton

Was just Joost mentioned from the South African contingent? What about Fourie Du Preez?

No, I would say the fan base seemed fairly evenly split between nationalities. I believe Du Preez was mentioned a few times by some people, but the four names I gave in my original post were time and again by far the most mentioned.
 

sCriv

Academy Player
Joined
May 7, 2019
Messages
67
Reaction score
4
Country Flag

England

Club or Nation

Northampton

Yep, not to mention you can’t judge people you’ve never seen play. The best you can do is judge from who you have seen, and judge by their relative influence at the time. I’ve been watching the game since the early nineties, and in that time I’d have to say fourie du Preez. There’s been a lot of great players, but du Preez at his peak controlled a game better than anyone before or since and was an excellent defender too.

That's another good point I'd considered myself. Always very tough to judge a player when you've not actually seen them play or lived through their era.

For example I can't properly comment on Gareth Edwards as he was way before my time, I can only seek the opinions of others who did see him play, but then you're opening yourself up to be influenced by other people's interpretations of what a good player is, rather than your own. There are, of course, always YouTube clips I can watch, but that's not really a fair comparison. Anybody can look good in a 5 minute youtube video - doesn't really tell me much.

I've been watching Rugby about the same amount of time and I'd agree Du Preez is definitely up there.
 

The Alpha Bro

Fat Boi
TRF Legend
Joined
Dec 3, 2010
Messages
12,786
Reaction score
3,447
Country Flag

Ireland

Club or Nation

Leinster

It might be because he had a relatively weak record v Ireland but I never quite rate FdP up there with JVdW or Gregan, Dawson or Galthie too for that matter. Injuries and/or a shorter peak may contribute too.

I think what's revealing from this is the disparity between the quality of 9 in the North and South. Stringer being the only NH nine of the professional era shows two things 1. Facebook comments are dumb as ****, Stringer isn't even Munster's all time best 9 and 2. It's a far more important position than given credit for, arguably more vital than 10.

I can only comment from the late 90s onwards but in that time the 9s who at some point had a solid claim for best in the world are (one or two will likely slip my mind) Galthie, Gregan, Dawson, VdW, FdP, Yachvili, Parra, Smith and Murray - There's more NH representation there than I thought there would be but notably all the SH guys mentioned are WC winners while all the NH guys have that coveted All Black scalp, also it's the French's job to **** up trends in rugby. With the exception of Parra who has been stunted by his national set up all these guys have ticked off everything they can on the CV with the exception of a world cup win in a couple of cases.

Looking towards the RWC this year and the consensus is nobody outside of NZ, Ireland, Wales, England and SA have a chance, with the exception of maybe Argentina, who are perennial dark horses none of the other competent/not French countries have a 9 that holds a candle to Youngs and Davies who are the worst offerings of the five named.
 

Cruz_del_Sur

First XV
TRF Legend
Joined
Sep 12, 2011
Messages
2,739
Reaction score
596
Country Flag

Argentina

Club or Nation

CASI

Take any top player from today and he would be able to play at that high level in any era, but I'm not convinced that players from the 60's/70's could mix it up with the top guys today.
I thought so too, but i watched a TEDX talk (hate them so i tend not to believe a word they say) about the difference in performance across time in sports in general which made me second guess. They basically argued (with evidence) that the difference between the 100 meters performance of jesse owens and usain bolt, HUGE if you just look at the time, was mostly (not all) explained by training and equipment.

The level is better now, sure, but the athletes that make it now have MASSIVE advantages. Better nutrition, better training, much more specialized roles, sport psychologist at their dispossal, guys preparing motivational videos for them to enter the field in an adrenaline rush.
You know what where the All Blaks spent the weeks prior to the world cup in 1987? They weren't training in a top-notch facility with a team of caretakers. They were staying with random rural families.

Agustin Creevy was sent 10.000 km away for quite some time to an intensive course for line out ball throwing. Imagine doing that in the 60s. Or better, imagine athletes from the sixties with access to that sort of resources.

Regarding SHs, i will rule out Pichot to avoid any bias. IMO, it's a close call between Joost and George Greegan. Technically George was close to perfect, but Joost had the size, drive, was fearless and had this inspirational aura around him. He was very good at "filling gaps". Whenever the team needed someone somewhere, there was Joost doing what needed to be done.
For me, he is THE quintessential springbok.
 

bushytop

First XV
Joined
Oct 3, 2011
Messages
4,099
Reaction score
1,652
Country Flag

Wales

Club or Nation

London Welsh

I find it hard to pick an outright best from Gareth Edwards and JVDW.

Being born in 1979, my early years were filled with my Grandfather playing the videos of Wales, the Lions and the BaaBaas of the 70's. He literally worshipped Edwards and would pause, rewind and replay moment after moment to explain in great detail what the maestro was doing and why it was effective.

Then, in my teens JVDW was my favourite player of that particular era... regardless of the fact that he ALWAYS seemed to score against Wales.

Both players had all the tools, great delivery, speed, power, vision etc. but what I feel separates them from all the rest was the will to be victorious. The amount of times both have single-handedly snatched victory from the jaws of defeat is incredible. Absolute legends, the pair of them
 

sCriv

Academy Player
Joined
May 7, 2019
Messages
67
Reaction score
4
Country Flag

England

Club or Nation

Northampton

I thought so too, but i watched a TEDX talk (hate them so i tend not to believe a word they say) about the difference in performance across time in sports in general which made me second guess. They basically argued (with evidence) that the difference between the 100 meters performance of jesse owens and usain bolt, HUGE if you just look at the time, was mostly (not all) explained by training and equipment.

The level is better now, sure, but the athletes that make it now have MASSIVE advantages. Better nutrition, better training, much more specialized roles, sport psychologist at their dispossal, guys preparing motivational videos for them to enter the field in an adrenaline rush.
You know what where the All Blaks spent the weeks prior to the world cup in 1987? They weren't training in a top-notch facility with a team of caretakers. They were staying with random rural families.

Agustin Creevy was sent 10.000 km away for quite some time to an intensive course for line out ball throwing. Imagine doing that in the 60s. Or better, imagine athletes from the sixties with access to that sort of resources.

Regarding SHs, i will rule out Pichot to avoid any bias. IMO, it's a close call between Joost and George Greegan. Technically George was close to perfect, but Joost had the size, drive, was fearless and had this inspirational aura around him. He was very good at "filling gaps". Whenever the team needed someone somewhere, there was Joost doing what needed to be done.
For me, he is THE quintessential springbok.

Very good points, but, turning back to Rugby for a second, this still makes it close to impossible to compare players from different generations for me.
If the players from the 60's/70's etc had all of the tools that the modern players do, that wouldn't necessarily mean that they would still be at the same level.
Isn't the modern game now even more competitive than ever, with fewer and fewer academy players making the grade than back in the day?

The point is we're dealing with the realms of "what ifs" rather than actual facts.

Decent argument but I'm still not convinced.
 
Last edited:

sCriv

Academy Player
Joined
May 7, 2019
Messages
67
Reaction score
4
Country Flag

England

Club or Nation

Northampton

I find it hard to pick an outright best from Gareth Edwards and JVDW.

Being born in 1979, my early years were filled with my Grandfather playing the videos of Wales, the Lions and the BaaBaas of the 70's. He literally worshipped Edwards and would pause, rewind and replay moment after moment to explain in great detail what the maestro was doing and why it was effective.

Then, in my teens JVDW was my favourite player of that particular era... regardless of the fact that he ALWAYS seemed to score against Wales.

Both players had all the tools, great delivery, speed, power, vision etc. but what I feel separates them from all the rest was the will to be victorious. The amount of times both have single-handedly snatched victory from the jaws of defeat is incredible. Absolute legends, the pair of them

A lot of people said similar things in the original article.

They came to the conclusion that Joost was the best of the modern era, and Edwards the best of the amateur era.

Probably a fairer way of judging it as discussed previously?
 

TRF_heineken

RIP #J9
TRF Legend
TRF Supporter
Joined
Apr 9, 2010
Messages
11,373
Reaction score
1,240
Country Flag

South Africa

Club or Nation

South Africa

The thing is you can't make a comparison between professional players and the their predecessors when the sport wasn't professional. There's just way too much of difference in the quality of the sport as a whole and how it has progressed over the years.

I think Joost should be first, with FdP second. Both of them were an integral part for us winning 2 World Cups.
 

Umaga's Witness

First XV
TRF Legend
Joined
Dec 3, 2012
Messages
1,270
Reaction score
516
Country Flag

New Zealand

Club or Nation

Hurricanes

George and joost and Marshall and kelleher all played at the same time and were all great. It was a constant debate as to who was the best. Marshall and kelleher get forgotten in this discussion these days.

Gregan for instance, a legend no doubt, but kelleher got the best of him every time they played each other, at any level. It was one thing you could guarantee about the game beforehand.

Gregan had the best pass, for sure, and played for a million years.

Marshall, joost, and kelleher were all great defenders.

Justin Marshall was an amazing player, I wish he’d shut up half the time now that he is a commentator, but he was an amazing player. But he couldn’t pass, and that’s a halfback’s main job. If hadn’t played with mehrtens, the best hands the game has seen, collecting balls at his ankles and seamlessly proceeding to put someone through a gap in one movement, Marshall would have looked nowhere near as good. But he controlled games very well.

Joost was a bit of a freak and had great leadership. Not as good a passer as gregan but a great runner and a guy that could just make something happen.

I watched these players growing up and idolised them all.

I watched du Preez later, when I was passed the idolising age, and he was better. Just a genius. In an age when smarts from players, rather than coaches, was becoming less important, he displayed more smarts than anyone before. If he had played earlier he would have been even better.
 

The Alpha Bro

Fat Boi
TRF Legend
Joined
Dec 3, 2010
Messages
12,786
Reaction score
3,447
Country Flag

Ireland

Club or Nation

Leinster

I'd back Galthie in the pro era actually. He played in some properly amazing French and Toulouse side, had all the qualities of a great French nine and in addition to that he was the only one I've ever seen who could consistently control the pace of a game when protecting a lead. He's never mentioned in place of Lamaison, Dominci, Magne or Bernat Salles when talking about that 1999 match but that was one of the best, if not the best halfback performances I'll ever see.
 

Cruz_del_Sur

First XV
TRF Legend
Joined
Sep 12, 2011
Messages
2,739
Reaction score
596
Country Flag

Argentina

Club or Nation

CASI

this still makes it close to impossible to compare players from different generations for me.
This aint an exact science, but you have benchmarks, of benchmarks by proxies. All the metholodies are flawed, granted, but the standard tends to be result oriented and/or how far ahead of it's time it was.
Say you have player X from the 60 and player Y from today. Lets say if you compare them like for like, Y is faster, stronger, better kicker, tackler, rucker, ofloader etc. He is overall a better player.
But, in the 60s, player X led his team to win a record number of tournamets at the highest level. He was unanimously considered the best in the world.
Now, Y hasnt won a single tournament. When you ask his peers about him, the standard answer is "Who?"

So who is the better player? I am pretty sure the overwhelming mayority would say X. I know i would. Using the criteria you imply Y was better.
 

sCriv

Academy Player
Joined
May 7, 2019
Messages
67
Reaction score
4
Country Flag

England

Club or Nation

Northampton

This aint an exact science, but you have benchmarks, of benchmarks by proxies. All the metholodies are flawed, granted, but the standard tends to be result oriented and/or how far ahead of it's time it was.
Say you have player X from the 60 and player Y from today. Lets say if you compare them like for like, Y is faster, stronger, better kicker, tackler, rucker, ofloader etc. He is overall a better player.
But, in the 60s, player X led his team to win a record number of tournamets at the highest level. He was unanimously considered the best in the world.
Now, Y hasnt won a single tournament. When you ask his peers about him, the standard answer is "Who?"

So who is the better player? I am pretty sure the overwhelming mayority would say X. I know i would. Using the criteria you imply Y was better.

I guess this is the point I'm making and ultimately your argument backs this up because the criteria for the comparison depends on the person.

For me it is a combination of both "X" and "Y" ultimately, others may argue just "X", others just "Y".
Point is when talking about players from different eras its almost impossible to be able to compare these variables with accuracy, for example:

"If such and such a player from the 70's who won absolutely everything in his day was around today, with the same access to what the current guys have in terms of training/prep etc, he would still be the best".
This is impossible to say and we are merely dealing in "what ifs". Some might argue yes, some no. Reality is we simply will never know.
The argument works the same in reverse:
"If such and such current player was transported back in time to the 70's, would he still be the world class star he is now?"
Again, impossible to say, as he would have the same tools (or lack of) as the other guys. Again, some will say yes, others no. It is subjective depending on the person.

The only point one can argue with certainty is that players today in general are better than the amateur days because of all of the points you mentioned in your original post, and therefore, the standard is far higher now. We can only deal in facts.
 

Umaga's Witness

First XV
TRF Legend
Joined
Dec 3, 2012
Messages
1,270
Reaction score
516
Country Flag

New Zealand

Club or Nation

Hurricanes

This aint an exact science, but you have benchmarks, of benchmarks by proxies. All the metholodies are flawed, granted, but the standard tends to be result oriented and/or how far ahead of it's time it was.
Say you have player X from the 60 and player Y from today. Lets say if you compare them like for like, Y is faster, stronger, better kicker, tackler, rucker, ofloader etc. He is overall a better player.
But, in the 60s, player X led his team to win a record number of tournamets at the highest level. He was unanimously considered the best in the world.
Now, Y hasnt won a single tournament. When you ask his peers about him, the standard answer is "Who?"

So who is the better player? I am pretty sure the overwhelming mayority would say X. I know i would. Using the criteria you imply Y was better.
I don’t buy the ‘he played in a team that won tournaments and stuff’ argument. No one player can be deemed responsible for such feats. These things just make the player more available to memory. It’s called availability bias.

You can put the worlds best ever player into a crap team and the team will still be crap. Some players can influence an outcome more than others, sure, but you can’t judge a player based on their team’s results.

But I agree with the crux of what you are saying. If you have watched the player yourself (otherwise it isn’t your opinion) you can see how influential they were in their time coMpared to the peers of their time.
 

sCriv

Academy Player
Joined
May 7, 2019
Messages
67
Reaction score
4
Country Flag

England

Club or Nation

Northampton

I don’t buy the ‘he played in a team that won tournaments and stuff’ argument. No one player can be deemed responsible for such feats. .
Here, here. Another often overlooked point I forgot to consider.
 
Top