Eight men have led their countries to Rugby World Cup glory since the inaugural edition of the tournament back in 1987.
From New Zealand’s David Kirk on home soil to the inspirational skipper Siya Kolisi, who led South Africa to the Webb Ellis Cup in 2019, these are the men who have been charged with marshalling their troops on the big stage.
As the 2023 World Cup prepares to crown the latest champion, now is the opportunity for British & Irish Lions supporters to vote for the greatest Men’s Rugby World Cup captain of them all.
Here is a reminder of the eight skippers:
David Kirk, 1987 – New Zealand
David Kirk led by example as New Zealand claimed the inaugural Rugby World Cup, scoring five tries across the tournament including one in the 29-9 final victory over France.
Kirk first toured with the All Blacks in 1983 but did not feature on The British & Irish Lions Tour of the same year, making his international debut in 1985 against England.
An injury to veteran hooker Andy Dalton on the eve of the 1987 World Cup saw Kirk handed the captaincy and he relinquished the responsibility after his side’s success on home soil, retiring at the age of just 26 to take up a Rhodes Scholarship at Oxford University.
Nick Farr-Jones, 1991 – Australia
Scrum-half Nick Farr-Jones channelled Lions disappointment to put Australia on top of the world in 1991.
Captain of the Wallabies side which lost 2-1 to Ian McGeechan’s Lions in 1989, Farr-Jones exacted revenge two years later with a 12-6 triumph over England in the final after wins over Wales and Ireland earlier in the tournament.
Francois Pienaar, 1995 – South Africa
Francois Pienaar represented South Africa in just 29 Tests but is still regarded as one of rugby’s greatest-ever captains.
The first forward to skipper his country to World Cup glory, Pienaar led the Springboks to their first title in 1995 after a 15-12 defeat of New Zealand, collecting the trophy from Nelson Mandela in one of sport’s most iconic moments.
With Pienaar’s international career ending just a year later, he played no part in the Lions’ triumphant Tour of South Africa in 1997, but his place in World Cup history is secure.
John Eales, 1999 – Australia
Wallabies second row John Eales made history on multiple fronts across a decade-long international career.
One of the first players to win the Webb Ellis Cup for a second time following a 35-12 victory over France, he also became the first player to captain his country to a World Cup victory and Lions Test glory – which he did in 2001.
He also registered 173 points for Australia and remains the highest points scoring forward in Test rugby history, and in 2001 retired as the most-capped lock ever.
Martin Johnson, 2003 – England
Martin Johnson remains the only Lions captain in history to have tasted World Cup success.
Second row Johnson had already established himself as a Lions legend prior to England’s memorable 20-17 win over Australia in 2003, having become the first man to captain the Lions twice after heading up the 1997 and 2001 Tours.
John Smit, 2007 – South Africa
The 50th captain of the South Africa national team led them to their second World Cup, as holders England were conquered in France.
John Smit made 111 appearances for South Africa and backed up world domination with a series win over the Lions in 2009.
What makes Smit’s cap haul all the more impressive is that the majority were full 80-minute displays – he started and finished the 2007 final and all three Tests in 2009.
Richie McCaw, 2011 and 2015 – New Zealand
One of the greats of the modern game, Richie McCaw led from the front as New Zealand became the first side to win back-to-back World Cup crowns.
McCaw made his international debut in 2001 and started the first two Tests as the All Blacks defeated the Lions in 2005.
At the age of 25 and after 36 international caps, McCaw was announced as captain of the national side in May 2006, heralding a decade of Kiwi dominance on the international stage.
A few weeks after his second and New Zealand’s third World Cup win, McCaw called time on his decorated career, finishing with the international record for most games won as a player (131) and most games as captain (110).
Siya Kolisi, 2019 – South Africa
Over the course of a whirlwind three years, Siya Kolisi established himself as one of rugby’s most influential figures.
Upon taking the South Africa captaincy in 2018, Kolisi became the first black man to hold the position and a little over 12 months later he became the first black World Cup-winning captain.
The Covid pandemic then brought international rugby to a standstill before the Boks returned to the field to record a 2-1 series victory over the Lions.
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