The greatest opensides of all time: Michael Jones
New Zealand openside Michael Jones had a reputation for delivering bone-shuddering hits and superb attacking assaults. He is remembered as one of the game's greats
Major teams: Auckland, Blues
Countries: Western Samoa, New Zealand
Test span: 1986-98
Western Samoa caps: One (one start)
New Zealand caps: 55 (54 starts)
Test points: 56 (13T)
John Hart’s barometer for world-beating ability has been unerring. As New Zealand U21 coach in 1990, it was he who saw something special in a lanky lock from Leicester, bringing Martin Johnson on tour to Australia.
Five years earlier as Auckland boss in a glittering season that saw National Provincial Championship glory and the beginning of a 61-match Ranfurly Shield defence, Hart handed a 20-year-old openside his National Provincial Championship debut. Michael Jones excelled straightaway.
Qualifying through his mother, he appeared once for Western Samoa before touring the British Isles with New Zealand Barbarians.
By 1987 and the inaugural World Cup, Hart had risen to the post of All Blacks assistant coach. He would later label Jones “almost the perfect rugby player” and drafted his protégé into the hosts’ squad. The decision was vindicated rapidly.
Jones was the first player to score a World Cup try, darting over on his New Zealand debut 30 minutes into a 70-6 thrashing of Italy. He featured in three more matches including the triumphant final.
Though a gruesome knee injury sustained against Argentina in 1989 reduced his speed, Jones reinvented himself as a more belligerent performer and influenced at the highest level whenever fitness and faith allowed, not least in three consecutive starts during the 1993 Lions series.
Staunch Christian beliefs meant playing on the Sabbath was out of the question – even for the 1991 World Cup semi-final with Australia – and a nickname of ‘Iceman’ originated due to the number of ice packs that perennially decorated his body.
Finishing with a defeat by the Wallabies in 1998, Jones won just 55 caps over a period in which New Zealand played 90 Tests. Still, his legacy is rock-solid.