In Rugby, the name All Blacks invokes feelings of both awe and dread from friend and foe alike. This is because the New Zealand national rugby union team has been the epitome of excellence and consistency over the last century and has been front and center in a number of the sport’s defining moments. Their ranks have been filled with the best of the best from as far back as the early 1900s and their overall team and philosophy has been so widely recognized that the personal achievements of a number of their marquee players have simply flown below the radar and failed to receive the acknowledgment they are rightfully due. Case in point is the player who scored the most tries in their illustrious history.
Who scored the most tries for the All Blacks? Doug Howlett scored the most tries for the All Blacks having managed to register an impressive 49 in 62 test matches from 2000 to 2007. The former Auckland ace would have arguably scored more tries had he not played alongside such a talented group of All Blacks. Featuring the likes of Jonah Lomu, ex-skipper Richie McCaw, and Dan Carter.
You could argue, and quite convincingly, that Howlett was born to play rugby. Despite picking up the sport a little later than most while at secondary school, the ex-Blues star quickly took to it like fish to water and established himself as one of the promising young prospects at the time.
Howlett had all the physical gifts needed to succeed in rugby and then some. The talisman was the captain of the Auckland Grammar School athletics team and the institution’s star sprinter, once clocking 10.68 seconds in a 100-meter sprint. Howlett also showed a natural ability to lead and was at one point named Head Prefect of the school.
These attributes carried onto his rugby career and were key factors to the success he had over the years for the clubs he played for and for his seven-year stint with the All Blacks. Howlett’s size was another asset as he grew to a respectable 6 foot 1 and had the necessary stamina to maintain a high level of play throughout a match.
At age 18, Auckland got his first taste of club rugby after being drafted into the Auckland Rugby Union – a dominant provincial rugby union that has won the first-tier domestic provincial competition a record 17 times. Pundits have suggested that the step up in competition was the proverbial crucible that Howlett had to go through to emerge as the force of nature he eventually became.
Howlett then had brief stints with two Super Rugby teams: Dunedin-based Otago Highlanders and perennial contenders Wellington Hurricanes. Most of his prime years were however spent with his home city team, the Auckland Blues.
The speedster wound up his club career playing for Irish top-flight side Munster. Howlett made a total of 271 appearances for the five teams and tallied a total of 715 points over a career that spanned almost two decades.
Among his many achievements are scoring a hat-trick in his Super 12 debut for the highlanders and scoring an awe-inspiring 59 tries for the Blues, which remains a Super Rugby record to this day. The full-back was a key feature of the Blues’ title-clinching campaign of 2003.
Howlett is also one of only three players to have won major titles with teams in both the northern and southern hemispheres. He is particularly revered in Ireland where he helped the Red Army clinch the coveted European Champions’ Cup (Heineken’s Cup) in their 2007/08 campaign – a mere five months after his arrival at the club.
He also helped Munster win the Celtic League (now the United Rugby Championship or URC) twice before unceremoniously retiring five years later after sustaining a serious shoulder injury as per the advice of his physician.
International Career & Breaking the Record
Howlett was first called up to New Zealand’s U-23 squad in 1997 where he accumulated a notable 70 points in 13 appearances within two years. His promotion to the senior squad at that point was nothing if not inevitable.
His first appearance for the All Blacks came in 2000 in a 102-0 routing of Tonga where he displayed his full arsenal and managed to score two tries – the first coming a little over 20 seconds after his debut.
By the 2003 Rugby World Cup, Howlett had become his country’s first-choice winger and an integral part of the All Blacks squad. He had exceptional performances during the tournament despite New Zealand’s exit at the hands of Australia in the semi-finals.
At the 2007 Rugby World Cup, Howlett tied former All Blacks full back Christian Cullen’s record of 48 tries after scoring a hat-trick against Italy in early September before setting the record with a try against Scotland later on in the same month.
Style of Play
Howlett was the perfect blend of speed, strength, and finesse. He mostly operated on the wings and utilized his quick feet to beat their opponents’ defensive players to the try line. Few players could match Howlett’s speed let alone attempt to catch him in his prime.
The winger also liked playing closer to the ball to offer his teammates a quick outlet whenever they ran into opposition. Howlett often expertly weaved through their opponents’ defense and effortlessly fluctuated his speed to throw off the timing of those who sought to tackle him. During his stint with the All Blacks, the team won the Rugby Championship on five separate occasions including three consecutive titles from 2005 to 2007. The fete makes Howlett one of the most successful players to have donned the conspicuously black jerseys.
Problems with the Law
For most of his career, Howlett maintained a near-perfect image both on and off the field. He however hit the headlines for all the wrong reasons in October 2007 after he was arrested for allegedly damaging two cars.
Howlett owned up to the mistake and offered a public apology to the aggrieved parties and appeared to have put such incidents behind him before being arrested three years later for allegedly being drunk and disorderly after attending Munster’s Christmas party.
These two asterisks do not however take away from Howlett’s many achievements. His most noble feat off the pitch was starting a foundation in 2007 which has since helped tens of New Zealand children to pay their tuition and sports fees and buy books and sports materials they need to excel both in the classroom and in the field.