Tony Woodcock, Sean Fitzpatrick and Ken Gray are the best ever All Blacks front row, according to the experts and public vote.
Over eight weeks, Sky Sport have assembled a voting panel of experts – rugby commentators Grant Nisbett, Ken Laban and Rikki Swannell, as well as NZME journalist Phil Gifford – to discuss and debate the best ever All Blacks team, and ultimately give fans the opportunity to vote for who they believe should make the Greatest XV in each position.
The brainchild of Sir John Kirwan and Sir Graham Henry, the Greatest XV will identify the 15 greatest All Blacks of all time, as well as a captain, coach and bench.
The winners of the vote from the panel and the public will be revealed every Monday at 8.30pm on the Breakdown on Sky Sport 1, culminating in a gala event celebrating the winners in September.
Last week, the nominees for loosehead prop, hooker and tighthead prop were announced, where the panel made their decision and the vote went to the public.
The four finalists for loosehead prop were Wilson Whineray (32 tests from 1957-1965), Tony Woodcock (118 tests from 2002-2015), Craig Dowd (60 tests from 1993-2000) and
Steve McDowall (46 tests from 1985-1992).
At hooker, the four were Ron Hemi (16 tests from 1953-1959), Sean Fitzpatrick (92 from 1986-1997), Keven Mealamu (132 tests from 2002-2015), Dane Coles (74 tests from 2012-present).
The tighthead prop finalists were Kevin Skinner (20 tests from 1949-1956), Ken Gray (24 tests from 1963-1969), Olo Brown (56 tests from 1992-1998) and Owen Franks (108 tests from 2009-2019).
The panel picked McDowall, Fitzpatrick and Gray as their greatest front row. However, the public vote went with Woodcock (79 per cent of the vote), Mealamu (52 per cent) and Franks (51 per cent), meaning the deciding vote went to "convener of selectors" Sir Graham Henry to break the tie.
Henry ultimately decided on the trio of Woodcock, Fitzpatrick and Gray.
Henry on Woodcock: "He played in two Rugby World Cup-winning teams. He's played 111 games for the All Blacks and was a vital part of those teams. He's played more games of rugby than any other front rower in the history of this country. He was superb. It's a hell of a difficult job but he's the most experienced, played the most number of tests and I think he deserves to get the job because of that."
Henry on Fitzpatrick: "Keven did come into consideration – I had sleepless nights about this – but I had to go with Sean Fitzpatrick. Keven played 129 games for the All Blacks … Sean played 92 and Sean was captain for a long, long time. He I think was the strong man in the front row in world rugby for almost a decade. I think if you asked the world to pick the best hooker in the world, they'd pick Fitzpatrick."
Henry on Gray: "He played in the 60s and I talked to Colin Meads, Brian Lochore, John Graham, Wilson Whineray, reasonably knowledgeable men, and they thought this man was the strong man of the pack. And he led them. He was 6 foot 3, reasonably tall for a prop, and only 96 kilos. Going back a few years, I saw him play. He was a phenomenal player in those days and it's just difficult to compare the different decades and the different team but they thought he was a key member of that team. A cornerstone tight-head prop."
This week, the public will be voting on the greatest All Black locks.
Vote via Facebook using the links below (voting closes midnight Wednesday).
Colin Meads (55 tests from 1957-1971)
Gary Wheton (58 tests from 1981-1991)
Ian Jones (79 tests from 1990-1999)
Sam Whitelock (125 tests from 2010-present)
Andy Haden (41 tests from 1977-1985)
Brodie Retallick (83 tests from 2012-present)
Robin Brooke (62 tests from 1992-1999)
Brad Thorne (59 tests from 2003-2011)
Next week, the lock winners will be revealed and the panel will debate the greatest loose forwards.
Watch NZ's Greatest XV on the Breakdown on Sky Sport 1 every Monday at 8.30pm or catch up on nzherald.co.nz/sport every Tuesday.