Rugby’s greatest: The legends whose Test careers have spanned three decades

James While

With Frans Steyn’s love affair with the Springboks now reaching a monumental 16 seasons, Planet Rugby looks at the best of the best that have all achieved the honour of a Test career spanning three decades.

It’s remarkable to think that no All Black other than Sir Colin Meads has ever achieved this feat, and only Tim Horan, James O’Connor, Mario Ledesma, Felipe Contepomi, Hugo Porta, Creevy and two Steyns, Morne and Frans, have managed this from the southern hemisphere. A shoutout to Diego Dominguez who achieved the feat for two separate nations – debuting for Argentina in 1989 but playing for Italy from 1991-2003.

The list is an exclusive one and has a few surprises, which outlines just how rare the three decade feat is.

Planet Rugby’s three decade XV

15 Francois Steyn (South Africa): We could have picked the big man anywhere in our backline, but full-back is the place where he’s won the majority of his recent caps. A kicking master, a wonderful distributor and a rock of a defender, his career isn’t done yet as he approaches his fourth World Cup. (Caps: 77. Years: 2006 to present)

14 Leigh Halfpenny (Wales): A Lions legend in 2013 when he walked away with the man of the series award, the Welsh full-back is still putting in the hard yards for his country, whether it be at full-back or on the wing, where he made his debut in 2008. (Caps: 100. Years: 2008 to present)

13 Brian O’Driscoll (Ireland): From the moment he broke onto the international scene in 1999 to his last cap for Ireland in 2014, BOD set the bar for every international player in the world as he fused blistering pace with brutal defence and an eye for a jackal around the breakdown. Quite simply, a true all-time great of the game. (Caps: 141. Years: 1999 to 2014)

12 Tim Horan (Australia): Horan is arguably the greatest inside centre of all time and a double world champion, winning in both the amateur and professional eras with his beloved Wallabies. A strong runner, distribution was his superpower, creating many tries for those around him with delightful off-loads and intelligent running lines. (Caps: 80. Years: 1989-2000)

11 Chris Paterson (Scotland): Able to play at full-back or wing like Halfpenny, the Scot was a goal-kicking master with enough gas to score 22 Test tries in a career that saw one remarkable 10-month period in 2007-08 when he kicked 36 consecutive goals for Scotland. (Caps: 109. Years: 1999-2011)

10 Jonny Wilkinson (England): Few players have had a bigger impact on rugby than the great Jonny Wilkinson. A world champion aged 23, he continued in Tests until 2011 and had amassed 1246 points by the time he called it a day with England. (Caps: 97. Years: 1998-2011)

9 Danny Care (England): It’s hard to believe that ‘DC’ made his debut in 2008 after making his mark on the Sevens circuit in 2006. Blessed with pace and aggression, Care’s domestic form with Harlequins saw him recalled to the England side in 2022 after an absence of four years. (Caps: 87. Years: 2008 to present)

8 Joe Worsley (England): Worsley started as a tyro number eight but went on to become one of the most feared defensive flanks in world rugby, with his form so good in later years that he made his Lions debut aged 33, winning in South Africa in his only appearance. (Caps: 79. Years: 1999-2011)

7 Martyn Williams (Wales): A true Welsh great, ‘Nugget’ was blessed with superb footballing skills and deft handling. He is one of only three Test forwards to have dropped a goal this century, the others being Neil Back and Sergio Parisse. (Caps: 104. Years: 1996-2012)

6 Courtney Lawes (England)Like a fine wine the big Saint just gets better with each passing year and is equally effective at either blindside or lock. Bolting on Test match leadership to his skill set over the last two seasons, Lawes’ presence for Eddie Jones’ England is a given. A tower of power in every sense. (Caps: 101. Years: 2009 to present)

5 Alun Wyn Jones (Wales): The most capped player in the world and an iconic figure in his homeland of Wales and far beyond, Alun Wyn’s presence in every ‘all time’ list is assured. First capped as a flanker in 2006, he rose to become a four-time Lions legend and his work is not yet done as he targets his fifth Rugby World Cup next year at the age of 37. (Caps: 165. Years: 2006 to present)

4 Sir Colin Meads (New Zealand): An all time great of any era, Pinetree’s contribution to the All Blacks is comparable to any of the modern day legends. He was quite rightly named his country’s Player of the Century in 1999. (Caps: 55. Years: 1957-1971)

3 Phil Vickery (England): A world champion in 2003, Vickery’s mobility and tackle count was up there with the very best of all time. With three Lions tours and three World Cups, his contribution to English rugby can never be overestimated. (Caps: 78. Years: 1998-2010)

2 Agustin Creevy (Argentina): Appearing first as a 20-year-old flanker in 2005, Creevy’s beefy frame has seen him become his country’s most capped player this season. At the age of 37, his performances for London Irish last year put him right in the top bracket of all time hooking greats and he still believes he has more to give. (Caps: 95. Years: 2005 to present)

1 Sylvain Marconnet (France): Ask any prop of the last 25 years who was consistently the most powerful scrummager they came across and Marconnet’s name will feature. Blessed with the ability to play either side at world-class level but favouring the loosehead, the big man from Givors was legendary for his party antics and rather light-hearted approach to rugby training, emphasised when he broke his leg skiing a fortnight before the 2007 World Cup. Nevertheless, he was a world-class scrummager and feared around the globe. (Caps: 84. Years: 1998 to 2011)

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