Masters of the Air: The ten greatest kickers in rugby history – from All Blacks ‘wizard’ to the Scot who changed the game
Rugby has had some ridiculous kickers. The ability and skill with the boot can turn the course of a play, a scoreline, or a match.
Whether it be clutch moments to decide Lions series, Six Nations tours or World Cups, modern rugby wouldn’t be where it is without the development of an incredible kicking game, nor would it have developed without the skill of the kickers, which we’re going to talk about ten of the best today.
We aim to base our picks not just on a player’s ability with the kicking tee, but their in-game tactical kicking, performance with the boot, and success at the highest levels.
Think we’re missing a player here? Let us know in the comments. Nailing this list down to ten was extremely tough given the quality out there!
Dan Carter (New Zealand)
You can’t not start with the highest point scorer in the game’s history!
Regarded as one of the best players to wear the flyhalf jersey, one of the greatest All Blacks, and a two-time Rugby World Cup winner, Dan Carter was a wizard with ball on boot, both from the kicking tee and in general play.
A clutch player with incredible skills, his game management was the secret weapon that drove his kicking, being able to pick holes in defence through brilliant tactical moves. It’s no wonder the All Blacks haven’t felt as invincible since his retirement.
His deconstruction of the Wallabies in the 2015 World Cup final was one final exhibition of his skills, but for his all-time performance, few go past his 2005 performance against the British & Irish Lions, which saw the All Blacks prevail 48-18. His two tries, five penalties and four conversions were described as “the definitive fly-half display of the modern era”. That says it all.
Jonny Wilkinson (England)
The man who caused nightmares for Wallabies fans for years, Jonny Wilkinson was a player who was so much more than that drop goal.
A stalwart of the England side in the Noughties, his reliable kicking helped the men in white bounce back from the Tour of Hell in 1998 to World Cup winners in 2003, all from his uncanny ability to nail long-range conversions (complete with his now iconic pre-kick ritual) to great in-game tactics and delivering cunning treads into enemy territory.
He was reliable, and you could trust your kicking was in safe hands with him. He has since gone on to be regarded as one of the greatest players ever to don the Rose jersey, and with good reason.
Neil Jenkins (Wales)
Two words describe this incredible Welshman: his nickname, ‘The Boot’.
An icon of rugby and for Wales during the Nineties, Jenkins arguably was one of the first players who showcased how invaluable having a top-quality kicker on your side could be, a precursor to how much of the game is played today.
Across his 87-capped test career, he became the first ever rugby player to break the 1,000 international points mark and finished with an astounding 87% kicking success rate. He is also part of the only Lions side to have won a tour in South Africa during the professional era.
He is a player still held in high regard, both within Wales and around the world for his kicking ability, and he served as a benchmark for the great kickers to follow.
Michael Lynagh (Australia)
If you are to have a list of great kickers, similar to Dan Carter, you can’t NOT have Michael Lynagh. A 72-capped Wallaby and part of their first World Cup-winning side in 1991, Lynagh is renowned not just for his goal-kicking, but for completely transforming how tactical kicking was used in general play.
Australia became renowned in the Eighties and Nineties for playing exciting, tactical, confident, forward-thinking rugby that would turn oppositions inside out, and a crucial reason for that was the work of Lynagh. A skilled kicker and ball runner, his real strength was his role as a master tactician, being able to unleash the weapons at his disposal and find the right places to make them effective.
His impact on the game at large cannot be overstated in comparison to many on this list: he changed how tactical and general kicking could work in rugby.
Diego Dominguez (Italy)
Few players have had a journey as colourful as Diego Dominguez. A player who has donned the jersey for both Los Pumas and the Azzurri, he makes it onto this list for his outstanding performance with the latter side over a twelve-year, 74-capped career.
In a time when Italian rugby was still finding its feet in the Nineties, Dominguez’s career coincided with their admission to the Six Nations in 2000. Playing at three World Cups, he became renowned for his kicking ability, finishing his career with over 1,000 international points.
Throw in his impressive run with Stade Français that saw them win four Top 14 titles, and it’s fair to say he left an indelible mark on Italian rugby.
Handre Pollard (South Africa)
Our most recent addition, Handre Pollard’s inclusion is likely to raise an eyebrow or two for many South African fans. The Springboks have been blessed with many excellent kickers who could slot into this list such as the likes of Percy Montgomery and Morne Steyn, with the latter being up there as one of the highest point scorers in the game, not to mention winning two Lions tours.
However Pollard sneaks above Steyn in our opinion for one key reason: his incredible performances at arguably the biggest rugby event of them all, the World Cup. South Africa’s victories in 2019 and 2023 came heavily off the back of Pollard as the Bok’s go-to kicking weapon: a calming head on the field with a ruthless long-range boot.
His tally of 22 points in the 2019 Grand Final saw South Africa cruise away from England. However, his clutch back-to-back performances in 2023, kicking the winning penalty against England in the semi-final before doing the same the week after against the All Blacks to bring Bill back to the Rainbow Nation push him over the edge. Those performances may be recent, but they will live long in the game’s history.
Leigh Halfpenny (Wales)
A 101-capped veteran of Wales and a Lions tour winner, Leigh Halfpenny is the ultimate jack-of-all-trades on this list.
While the likes of fellow Welsh greats like Stephen Jones would also be considered, Halfpenny’s uncanny ability to pick apart sides sees him stand out in Wales colours. Holding the record for the most number of points scored by a Lion in a single test match, the plucky fullback also has enjoyed successful tenures in Cardiff, Toulon and Scarlets.
Fans in the southern hemisphere better get ready to see a lot more of him too, with his inclusion in the 2024 Crusaders team for Super Rugby Pacific.
Andrew Mehrtens (New Zealand)
An extremely gifted playmaker for the All Blacks, Andrew Mehrtens’ performances in the Nineties and Noughties laid the groundwork for future successes to come out of New Zealand, like Dan Carter.
A brilliant tactical kicker, his key strength was his calmness under pressure and an ability to unleash the Kiwi weapons through his kicking – including the legendary Jonah Lomu – and his performances against the likes of Larkham’s Australia are warmly remembered as a golden age of Southern Hemisphere rivalries.
Mehrtens also is fondly remembered for being a key part of what became the dominant Crusaders side in Super 12, picking up four titles during his tenure and laying the foundation for what remains the most successful club in the competition’s history, and a key feeder for the All Blacks.
Francois Steyn (South Africa)
South Africa’s ultimate answer to the utility back, ‘Daddy Frans’ is a significant figure in the history of Springbok rugby. Enjoying a mammoth 16-year career for the national side, he is fondly remembered for his ruthless tackling style and his absurdly long boot, kicking some of the biggest goals ever seen on a rugby field.
A two-time World Cup winner, Steyn holds the record for being the youngest player ever to lift the Webb-Ellis Cup, and his instrumental performance in the 2007 World Cup was vital in handing South Africa their first trophy. He would repeat the feat 12 years later, being selected in the side that won in 2019.
His performances could turn the course of matches, and very frequently, did.
Gavin Hastings (Scotland)
Finishing with one of the greatest players ever to represent Scotland, Gavin Hastings was a revolutionary placekicker.
A key weapon behind many of Scotland’s successes in the nineties, his consistency and ability to convert difficult kicks into points made him one of the most respected kickers of his time.
Also, as part of the 1989 British & Irish Lions team that tasted victory in Australia, Big Gav is fondly remembered as a reliable point-scoring machine in Scotland, with 667 points and 61 caps to his name.
Sports opinion delivered daily
He also is part of a hugely successful rugby family for the Scots, with brother Scott and son Adam also going on to international honours.