The 20 best Wales rugby players in history ranked and where

Many are saying Alun Wyn is number one in Welsh history, but there is some truly elite competition for the unofficial crown

Alun Wyn Jones will equal Sergio Parisses record as the most-capped northern hemisphere player of all time when he faces South Africa in the Rugby World Cup semi-final in Yokohama on Sunday.

It will be his 142nd Test, an epic achievement fully deserving of plaudits.

And those plaudits have duly come in.

Neil Jenkins said this week: Wales have had some incredible rugby players, and he is up there as one of the best if not the best.

Jenkins words were in the same ball-park as those of Jonathan Davies the former fly-half, not the current centre who called Jones maybe the greatest Welsh player after the Grand Slam-clinching win over Ireland last March.

We put together a list of the top 20 Wales players of the past 50 years and Alun Wyn is in truly elite company...

Maybe the most selfless player to play for Wales.

Phil Bennett tells a tale of how Morris saved him from a shoeing during a Neath-Llanelli derby at The Gnoll:  I found myself on the floor with the ball and could hear the Neath pack thundering forward.

Out of the blue, this figure in black came from nowhere to throw himself over me, saying: Stay down.

It was Dai. He knew the rest of the Neath forwards would have trampled all over me, so he dived across to prevent it from happening.

Morris became known as The Shadow because of his peerless support play. But the former miner was also granite hard and rarely missed a beat in defence.

He operated for Wales in the line-out jungle of the 1980s and he did so with majesty.

Before then, he had made a name for himself on the club scene.

The story goes that Pontypridd, complete with their legendary line-out forward Bionic Bob Penberthy, visited Abertillery and it was to the amazement of all and sundry that a young lock picked off the first three of their line-outs with ease. Whoosh! the tale went. The youngster leapt like a salmon to take some of the cleanest catches youll ever see.

For Bob and his fellow forwards, it was a genuinely WTF moment as in what the flip just happened?

He was that good opponents used to target him because they knew he could prove the difference between defeat and victory.

But, more often than not, he still held sway.

It may just have been the finest sight in Welsh rugby during the 1990s Ieuan Evans in full-flight, arrowing for the opposition line, usually near the corner flag. Invariably, such a scene presaged the referees arm going up to award the try.

He had the better of David Campese and Rory Underwood and New Zealand even switched a young Jonah Lomu to the other wing when they faced Wales in 1995.

Many of those who played alongside Scott Gibbs say they would look around the dressing room before kick-off, see him there and be thankful he was on their side.

For he was a warrior and a leader who lifted those around him and feared nothing.

Like all the greats, he could bend games to his will.

I feel good, he boomed out to Lawrence Dallaglo just before scoring his never-to-be-forgotten try that clinched victory for Wales over England in 1999.

Off the pitch, the bespectacled Gibbs may have looked more than a bit like Clark Kent.

But on it? Few opponents had the kryptonite to worry him.

He spent a long time in rugby league and maybe union missed the best of him, but what a class act he was with his outside break, ability to run perfect angles and organise defences.

I learnt as much from Allan in four or five weeks than I had from any coach in the past eight years, Will Greenwood said after touring alongside Bateman with the Lions.

He was a tremendous footballer, a guy whose nickname in Australian rugby league was The Clamp because of his tackling. That showed how tough he was.

Hes a one-off with his size and ability around the field. So said a Wales international about Gethin Jenkins.

If there was the odd question mark over his scrummaging, all those huge tackles and turnovers more than made up for it.

The triple Grand Slammer gave Wales an extra dimension.

There are outstanding players at the breakdown and then there was Warburton, a class apart.

When the big man locked over the ball, he had the strength to stay there, taking a vice-like grip that compelled the referee to award the decision.

He could also carry strongly when in the mood.

And this initially reluctant captain his own words turned out to be an inspirational and hugely effective leader.

An all-round marvellous player, then.

Lets allow Lawrence Dallaglio to do the honours on this one: I have long been an admirer of Tipuric and I am delighted that he has stepped out of Sam Warburtons shadow, he wrote this week in a column in The Times.

Id like to think I know a thing or two about the qualities a flanker needs at international level and he has them all: high workrate, including tackling, great ability over the ball, a target man in the lineout and speed around the park. If youre an England fan and you can bear to watch, check out the highlights from the 30-3 defeat in Cardiff in 2013 and his part in Alex Cuthberts two tries.

Then there are the extras which make Tipuric world class great handling ability and rugby intelligence. As a flanker, you are constantly pushing the law to its limit. Its Tipurics intelligence that means invariably he stays on the right side of legality.

If he wore a black jersey rather than a red one more people would be eulogising him.

For the avoidance of doubt, the black jersey Dallagio is talking about is New Zealands.

Mr Cool. He coasts through games seemingly without trying, but even Mozart had to put in the effort and Faletaus USP is to make it look easy when its anything but.

Injuries may have played havoc with him for two seasons or more.

But at peak fitness hes a magnificent No. 8 who can do it all: charge forward, tackle strongly, handle skilfully, offload, support and make good decisions.

For those of a certain age, Terry Holmes remains an icon.

He came through onto the Test scene in 1978, after the retirement of Gareth Edwards, having effectively usurped the talented Brynmor Williams, who had for so long been seen as the great mans heir apparent.

Holmes had the toughest of acts to follow in Edwards, but it says much for him that he proved up to the job.

The winner of countless man-of-the-match awards in Tests, the 6ft 1in, 13st 3lb Cardiffian had the strength to take on opposition back rows and was the prototype for the big and powerful No. 9s that have appeared on the scene over the past 15 years.

But, really, there was only one Terry Holmes.

The original fearless No. 15, a man who would make small armies run for the hills.

He rarely dropped a high ball, made a point of coming into the line when it was unfashionable to do so, barely ever missed a tackle and regarded it as an affront if opponents crossed his try line.

So good the All Blacks had to resort to stamping on him.

His on-pitch career may have been cut short, but he had achieved so much before it finished.

He was the tail-gunner whose work at the back of the line-out helped the Lions defeat New Zealand in 1971. Colin Meads rated him as the key to the tourists historic series victory.

He also triumphed with the Lions in South Africa.

Merve The Swerve was once reckoned to have made up to 40 tackles that saved tries on the Test stage.

Success followed him around on the field. It was no coincidence.

It is easy to forget how good a player Davies was.

As with Allan Bateman, he spent a long time in rugby league. But in those early years in union he ticked so many boxes some felt him to be the best player in the world.

Not so long ago, he was still being described as Wales greatest No. 10.

There are plenty whod argue with such a contention, but with his Rolls Royce acceleration and ability to conjure the unexpected, Davies was a worthy heir to the greats that had gone before him.

How did such a diminutive figure achieve so much success at a time when rugby was becoming dominated by giants?

World player of the year in 2008, he would pop up anywhere on the pitch and developed the happy knack of leaving a huge imprint on every game he played.

And he did it all with such style. A match-winner every coach would want to have in his armoury.

The journalist and author Huw Richards once interviewed the former referee Roger Quittenton about scrummaging and all it entailed. With admirable frankness, the Englishman said: Any decision about a scrum has an element of guesswork. You just hope that is informed guesswork.

But, he continued, there was one exception to the rule: If Graham Price is in the scrum you know that if something happens it is almost certainly because of him, since he can do pretty much what he likes against almost any opponent.

Price was a magnificent forward, decades ahead of his time, a force of nature around the field but also a master in the scrums.

They say down at Stradey that if ever you catch him you get to make a wish.

So said Bill McLaren about the one and only Phil Bennett.

Felinfoels finest had a jagged-edge sidestep and searing pace over 30 metres.

But he wasnt just about the flashy stuff.

Phil could destroy an opposition game plan, not just with his attacking play, but with his ability to read a match, Delme Thomas once told this writer.

He had a gift for spotting opposition weaknesses and playing on them.

Did this guy ever have a bad game for Wales?

If he did someone should tell us about it.

What set him apart was his ability to sidestep at maximum pace. Bill McLaren, again, described the Davies step best, saying it was like a shaft of lightning.

We cant be sure, but as of 10 years ago the rumour was that the Hawkes Bay wing who marked the Cardiff RFC flyer in the 1971 tour match against the Lions was still searching for Davies 30 or so years later, the classic sidestep for one of the Welshmans four tries that day having almost sent the chap careering into the crowd.

And the former centre helped revolutionise the wing position by venturing infield in search of the ball.

He is simply a colossal rugby player.

The greats do not stop improving and Jones has played some of his best rugby in recent years, adding elements to his game.

He keeps going when others are flagging and his consistency and durability are on another plane.

His influence on others is also huge. Maybe he is the greatest Welsh captain of all time.

Count all those terrific performances over his career, all the games when hes proven the difference. This is one special player, a lock for the ages. Wales greatest-ever forward? That sounds about right.

Genius is a word thrown around too often in sport, but in Barry Johns case it is applicable.

He knew he was a player apart and nothing fazed him.

His reading of play and understanding of the game were exceptional and he had skills and a running style from the gods.

John ran in another dimension of time and space, wrote Dai Smith and Gareth Williams in their classic piece on John in Fields of Praise, the official history of the Welsh Rugby Union.

His opponents ran into the glass walls which covered his escape routes from their bewildered clutches. He left mouths, and back rows, agape.

He also had a confidence that lifted team-mates.

The minds eye of a schoolboy can still picture him playing for Cardiff RFC against Maesteg. Many years have elapsed since, but genius visited Llynfi Road that evening. The grace, the poise and the composure were on another level.

Maybe rugby writers in 300 years time will be regaling Edwards as the greatest Welsh rugby player of all time.

It will take someone extraordinary to replace him at the top of the list.

He was a rugby player, athlete and a gymnast rolled into one. He scored extraordinary tries, bossed games with his kicking, developed one of the longest passes in the game and had the strength of a power-lifter. He also had pace, having once defeated future Olympic medallist Alan Pascoe in the English schools 220 yards hurdles final.

Opponents on the rugby field knew that at some point in a game, Edwards would strike, but stopping him was a different matter altogether.

Whether on the high veldt in South Africa with the Lions in 1974 or in the rain at Twickenham with Wales in 1978, he reigned supreme.

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