Fly (Half) Me To The Moon

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In enjoy rainy days and working at night. There is something magical about the silence and nuanced peace that envelopes an office block at the end of the workday. I often find that the two to three hours, at the end of the official workday, are my most productive hours; no phones ringing, no interruptions, no office noises, no meetings – just silence and focus. During winter, the rain would softly beat against the office windows and create a rather cosy setting.

When I eventually packed-up, briefcase, coat and lunchbox inn hand, I would greet many of the night cleaning staff, vacuum cleaners working at a low-pitched hum, on my way to the parking lot. Almost every night, one of my favourite songs, Fly me to the Moon by Frank Sinatra, would play over the office speaker system. With a tired mind and body, yet satisfied with the day’s effort, I would head for my car, and embark on a long nightly drive back home. I consider those evenings to be some of my most cherished memories.

I realise I sound like a bit of a bore! But there is something magical about good memories, our sense of connection with a place, an event, or a specific time in our lives. I recall, even now, 25 years later, how we as united South Africans celebrated in the streets in 1995 when Joel Stransky converted the winning drop-goal in the dying minutes of the Rugby World Cup final against the All Blacks. Cheers, celebration, and choirs of “Hier Kom die Bokke” made famous by Leon Schuster, echoed into the early hours of the morning.

Metro Police and SAPS in vain tried to keep roads open and prevent fans from closing busy intersections. Memorable wins stay with us – and it has stayed with us as a nation. We were fortunate enough to add yet another new Rugby World Cup story to our history in 2019. These memories also unite us and give us hope.

The list of legendary players, winning matches for their countries, clinching tournaments, and creating these cherished memories in our minds is a notably long one. Few positions in rugby create these moments more than the position of Flyhalf6, the Number 10 Jersey as we sometimes refer to it. We revere and respect the number, and the marvellous individuals representing our countries in this commanding position. Admittedly not all 10’s are created equal, and it is possible by analysing player statistics to narrow down the list of the best in the game.

Four legendary players immediately come to mind – Daniel Carter, Jonny Wilkinson, Beauden Barret and Morné Steyn. All four incredibly talented players in their own right, but if we were to compare them, how well do their statistics stack up next to each other? More importantly, and I am sure we all have this question – of the four, who is considered to be the best? In this article I explore their history, style of rugby, review their defining moments, and look at their game stats to create a comparative score sheet. Let’s see who can fly (half) us to the moon?

Flyhalf – Legend, Warrior Or Phoenix?


Few positions require as much responsibility from a player as required from the flyhalf. It is one of the positions in a team that has to continuously make critical game decisions, and that can in many instances, through the display of wit and flair, influence the outcome of a match. History is filled with last minute victories based on individual brilliance, as was exhibited, for example, in the Rugby World Cup finals of 1995 and 2003 – both by flyhalves. The flyhalf truly has the ability to let a team rise from the proverbial ashes so to speak.

History and Background

There is a maximum of 15 players from each team allowed onto the pitch and the positions of each player are indicated by the numbers, 1 to 15, on their backs. Depending on skill sets and body types players are usually divided into forwards (no’s 1 to 8) or backs (no’s 9 to 15) and each of them plays in a different position and on a specific place on the pitch. In earlier games there were only two positions; forwards who formed part of the scrummage (later called scrum), and a few defenders (called tends).

Later observations showed that players not active in the scrum were not just defending, so tends were renamed into backs and half-backs. The first “test” was played between England and Scotland in 1871 with 20 players a side. In 1877 that number was reduced to 15.

In the 1920’s numbers were added on the back of the jersey as a way for coaches and selectors to rate individual players.

Role and Objective of the Position

Following set-piece play such as a line-out, scrum or the breakdown during broken play, the flyhalf is usually the first player to receive the ball from the scrumhalf. At this point the flyhalf either decides to kick or run the ball down the backline, effectively initiating the teams plan of attack. It’s obvious why the flyhalf is key to the team’s game plan. Like a fighting general the flyhalf decides which elements of the team’s arsenal is to be deployed. It is a position that requires the ability to make quick decisions, to initiate effective communication to all the backs, and to possess a solid understanding of team’s strong and weak points.

Tactical Application

Many people associate the flyhalf with kicking at goal and for territory or tactical advantage, although true, a great flyhalf must also be level-headed, strategic in their thinking and insightful in terms of reading the game. They must possess good ballhandling skills, strong running and be able to execute attacking field kicks.

The flyhalf must be able to execute a range of kicks including chip-kicks, line-kicks, drop goals and penalty kicks, box kicks and chasing kicks downfield. The flyhalf usually also kicks at goal but this responsibility can be shared with another player like a fullback, wing, or centre. Some teams make use of two kickers in the team, one for short goals kick and another for longer kicks or depending on the difficulty rating of the kick.

Maestros, Machines and Consistencies

We all know the back-in-my-day conversations; usually set in some social gathering with a few older gents talking about the rugby legends of their era. Depending on your age and level of interest in the game, you might actually know some of them. It seems for every position on a rugby field there exists a great number of past legends. We will now look at four flyhalves who’s names are justifiably written in the halls of fame and history books.

The Maestro In Black – Beauden Barrett

Beauden Barrett scoring a try under the poles

Background and Bio

(Details correct as of 5 September 2020)

Beauden John Barrett was born 27 May 1991 in New Plymouth, New Zealand to parents Robyn and Kevin Barrett. He grew up on a farm in Pungarehu, a small town in South Taranaki near Opunake, with his seven siblings. He has four brothers and three sisters. Barrett spent a year in Ireland when he was eight years old. He attended St Fiach’s National School in Ballinacree, where he and his brother Kane learned how to play Gaelic football.

He plays flyhalf for New Zealand’s national team, the All Blacks. He was a key member of the 2015 Rugby World Cup winning team. Barrett played under-20 and Sevens levels for New Zealand before being called into the All Blacks’ training squad in May 2012. He debuted for Taranaki in 2010 and debuted in Super Rugby with the Hurricanes in 2011.

Barrett holds the world record for consecutive wins since his first test (19 wins from 19 tests). Following the 2019 Super Rugby season, Barrett re-signed with New Zealand Rugby through to 2023, also announcing that he would be switching Super Rugby clubs, from the Hurricanes to the Auckland-based Blues. Barrett finished his career with the Hurricanes as their all-time leading points-scorer, with 1238 points.

In the All Black’s 2019 Rugby Championship campaign, Barrett started one game at flyhalf and two games at fullback. Even after partially handing over the kicking duties to Richie Mo’unga, Barrett was able to score a total of 20 points across the All Black’s 3 games, making him the All Black’s top point scorer. All Blacks Head Coach, Steve Hansen named Barrett in New Zealand’s 31-man squad for the 2019 Rugby World Cup on 28 August 2019, with the competition set to be Barrett’s second World Cup.

Barrett proposed to his long-time partner Hannah Laity in 2018 and they married the following year in a private ceremony on Rakino Island.

Player Stats

  • Date of Birth: May 27, 1991, New Plymouth
  • Major Teams: Blues / Hurricanes / New Zealand Under- 20s / Taranaki / New Zealand
  • Height: 6 ft 2 in / 188 cm (rounded)
  • Weight: 202 lb / 92 kg (rounded)
  • Game Stats – All Tests: (2012 – 2019)
    • Matches: 83
    • Starts: 53
    • As Substitute: 30
    • Points: 649
    • Tries: 36
    • Conversions: 149
    • Penalties: 55
    • Drop Goals: 2
    • Wins: 72
    • Losses: 8
    • Draws: 3
    • Win Percentage: 86.74%

Awards, Trophies and Accolades

  • World Player of the Year Award – 2016
  • World Player of the Year Award – 2017
  • 100 Best Rugby Players In The World – Rated Number 2
  • Rugby World Cup Winner – 2015

Defining Moment

It was Beauden’s first test performance during the 2nd Test of the 2018 Bledisloe Cup against Australia, where he scored 4 magnificent tries , that truly showcased his flair and tenacity, securing the win for the All Blacks. An unstoppable Barret launched one creative kick after the other, ran through a tightly packed defensive line in zig-zag fashion and gave the Australian team a lesson in kick-and-chase styled rugby, securing the ball on the majority of bounces and leading to some of most memorable displays of running rugby ever recorded.

Description of Game

Barrett plays the majority of his rugby at flyhalf and is endowed with devastating speed (making him one of the quickest players in the All Blacks and the Hurricanes teams), a laser-like boot, and smart game management. Barrett’s pace has allowed him to perform several try-saving tackles on the opposition throughout his international career and has made him one of the highest try-scorers in rugby history. Barrett is also the co-highest try-scorer of any current All Blacks, with Ben Smith.

Barrett has a reputation of conjuring something out of nothing, the kind of player that can help his team claw their way back into a game against all odds. His ability to kick and chase down his own ball, with an even greater knack of securing the lucky bounce, is precisely what makes him such an unpredictable player. His ability to run the backline, break lines and handling wizardry is unmatched.

Dan The Man – Dan Carter

Dan Carter scoring a try against the British & Irish Lions

Background and Bio

(Correct as from 4 June 2020)

Daniel William Carter (ONZM) was born on 5 March 1982, in a small town, 10 minutes’ drive from the Carter family home in Southbridge, in the South Island of New Zealand, to Neville and Bev Carter. Dan has one older sister, Sarah. From the age of 5, he played with Southbridge Rugby Club as a scrum half for Ellesmere & Canterbury Country. He attended Ellesmere College where he played mostly at flyhalf and transferred to Christchurch Boys’ High School in his final year.

Carter plays for the Blues (Super Rugby) in New Zealand and played for New Zealand’s national team, the All Blacks. He is the highest point scorer in test rugby and is considered by many experts as the greatest flyhalf in the history of the game. He has won three Super Rugby titles with the Crusaders, and nine Tri-Nations and Rugby Championships with the All Blacks.

Carter injured his groin while doing kicking practice during the 2011 Rugby World Cup but was a key member of the 2015 Rugby World Cup-winning teams, becoming one of 20 players to have won multiple Rugby World Cups. In the 2015 Rugby World Cup Final against Australia, he kicked four penalties, two conversions and a drop goal, and was named the man of the match.

In June 2003, Carter made his All Blacks debut at age 21 in Hamilton, New Zealand, scoring 20 points against Wales. He was then capped against France in Christchurch, which the All Blacks won 31–23. Carter was included in New Zealand’s 2003 Rugby World Cup squad, where he first gained serious international attention. Although he has been an All Black since 2003, he only secured a permanent position as the flyhalf of the team during the 2004 tour to the United Kingdom and France.

In 2005, Carter starred in the All Blacks 48–18 win over the British and Irish Lions. He scored two tries, five penalties, and four conversions. He ended the match with 33 points, passing the previous All Blacks record of 18 points in a Lions Test (Carter’s second-half total of 22 points by itself was sufficient to top this). The performance was later described by The Guardian17 as “the definitive fly-half display of the modern era”. On 27 November 2010, after scoring a halfway penalty against Wales, Carter became the highest point scorer of all time, overtaking England’s Jonny Wilkinson’s previous record of 1,178.

On 16 November 2013, Carter became the fifth All Black to play 100 caps when New Zealand beat England by 30–22 at Twickenham on their end of year tour. On 17 July 2015, Carter and Richie McCaw played their final match in Christchurch together. On 15 August 2015 Carter played his final test in New Zealand in the Bledisloe Cup decider at Eden Park, a trophy he has never lost since his debut.

In the 2015 Rugby World Cup Final against Australia, Carter scored four penalties, converted two tries (with the final one taken with his right foot), and kicked a drop goal that gave the All Blacks the winning moment and securing the IRB Player of the Year award for the third time.

Carter became engaged to his long-time girlfriend Honor Dillion in October 2010 and the couple got married on 9 December 2011 and has since then had three children. In November 2006, Carter released his book Dan Carter: Skills & Performance which includes stories about his international rugby career and skills for younger players.

Player Stats

  • Date of Birth: March 5, 1982, Leeston
  • Major Teams: Canterbury, Crusaders, Perpignan, Racing Metro, Blues, New Zealand.
  • Height: 5 ft 10 in / 178 cm (rounded).
  • Weight: 207 lb / 94 kg (rounded).
  • Game Stats – All Tests: (2003 – 2015)
    • Matches: 112
    • Starts: 106
    • As Substitute: 6
    • Points: 1,598
    • Tries: 29
    • Conversions: 293
    • Penalties: 281
    • Drop Goals: 8
    • Wins: 99
    • Losses: 12
    • Draws: 1
    • Win Percentage: 88.39%

Awards, Trophies and Accolades

  • World Player of the Year Award – 2005
  • World Player of the Year Award – 2012
  • World Player of the Year Award – 2015
  • Rugby World Cup Winner – 2011
  • Rugby World Cup Winner – 2015

Defining Moment

Carter was catapulted to a new level of excellence after he scored two tries, five penalties, and four conversions in the 2nd test against the 2005 British and Irish Lions Tour, ending the match with 33 points, smashing the previous All Blacks records. In a post-match comment Sir Graham Henry (KNZM)said of Carter, “He came of age that day” summing up Carter’s master-piece performance. Carter’s individual brilliance set the All Black team on fire, followed up with his display of running rugby and on-target kicks, secured an All Black victory. Interestingly Carter played this game against his opposite number 10, the equally talented, Jonny Wilkinson.

Description of Game

Dan Carter is hailed as being one of the best fly-halves in the world, and his reputation is lauded in both rugby hemispheres. He is a consistent kicker at goal, a master tactician, with an almost intuitive broken-field playing ability. Carter knows when to engage the power of the backline and is a fierce tackler, with a frightening ability to accelerate with great speed. That, in combination with a dangerous side-step, arguably makes Carter the possessor of the complete package.

One of Carter’s less praised abilities is his unwavering will to return from injury, which has plagued him all his career and important performances, on several occasions; many times, just before critical games. Having been benched a number of times as a result of last-minute injury, many important games have had to be played in his absence. It takes an exceptionally clear minded and goal orientated individual to come back from such trials and tribulations.

Carter is also acclaimed, worldwide, as a role model with an inspiring skill set making him an asset on and off the field. Part time underwear model, voted as one of the Top 10 sexiest male athletes, being able to play at No 12 – there seems to be little Dan the Man can’t do!

The Kicking Machine – Jonny Wilkinson

Jonny Wilkinson kicking at goal in the Rugby World Cup

Background and Bio

(Accurate as of 5 September 2020)

Jonathan Peter Wilkinson, CBE, was born on 25 May 1979 at Frimley Park Hospital in Frimley, Surrey and grew up in Farnham. Jonathan’s brother, Mark, was also a Newcastle player, their father, Phil, was a rugby player and cricketer, and their mother, Philippa, played squash at county level. He attended Pierrepont School, Frensham and Lord Wandsworth College near Hook, Hampshire, and played at youth level for Farnham Rugby Club. He gained a place at the University of Durham but gave his place up in 1997 to become a professional rugby union player with the Newcastle Falcons.

He played fly-half for Newcastle Falcons and Toulon and represented England and the British and Irish Lions. He is particularly known for scoring the winning drop goal in the 2003 Rugby World Cup Final and is widely acknowledged as one of the best rugby players of all time. He played club rugby for twelve seasons in the English Premiership with Newcastle Falcons. In 2009 he moved to Toulon, where he won two Heineken Cups and one Top 14 championship in five seasons.

Wilkinson won 91 caps for England. He was an integral member of the England squad which won the 2003 World Cup, scoring the winning drop goal in the last minute of extra time against Australia in the final. He came back from several injuries and was part of the England team which reached the final of the 2007 World Cup. He toured twice with the British and Irish Lions, in 2001 to Australia and 2005 to New Zealand, winning 6 caps.

Injury forced him to miss out on the 2010 autumn internationals, in the process losing his position as the all-time leading points scorer in test rugby to Dan Carter. However, Wilkinson reclaimed the record during the 2011 Six Nations Championship, a tournament during which he came off the bench in each of England’s five games. He again lost the record to Carter in July 2011. On 12 December 2011, he announced his retirement from Test Rugby.

He retired from rugby after the end of the 2013–14 season. In 2016, he was inducted into the World Rugby Hall of Fame. Wilkinson is currently a studio analyst for ITV Sport, working on their coverage of the Six Nations Championship, Rugby World Cup, and other rugby events. In May 2014, Wilkinson announced that he would retire from all rugby at the end of the season.

He wrote a column for The Times occasionally until 2011, often during periods of high media focus on rugby, such as Six Nations tournaments and Rugby World Cups. He has also written five books. Wilkinson’s book, Tackling Life, was released in 2008. The book focuses on how his view on life changed after his injury woes, and how he overcame them. His fifth book, Jonny: My Autobiography was released in 2011.