Rugby: Six New Zealand players who have dominated the game in Europe

Nacewa captained Leinster to a European Cup title in his final season before retiring.
Nacewa captained Leinster to a European Cup title in his final season before retiring. Photo credit: Photosport

After yet another European Cup win, Isa Nacewa retires as arguably the most successful New Zealanders to ever play in Europe.

Nacewa announced he'd be hanging up his boots last month, before captaining Irish club Leinster to a 15-12 victory over Racing Metro 92 in the final on Sunday (NZT).

In honour of his monumental list of accolades, we take a look at the five most successful New Zealanders in the professional era of European rugby.

Don't expect to see the likes of Daniel Carter or Joe Rokocoko featuring, who despite being All Blacks greats, have just the one domestic title between them in France.

Isa Nacewa

Nacewa has been described as the greatest overseas signing in Irish rugby and you could make the case for him being the best in the history of European rugby.

Since signing for Leinster in 2008, the utility back has been capped 183 times, scoring more than 700 points across all competitions.

He's been an integral part in the club's four European Cup titles during that time, as well as two Pro 14 crowns to go with a a long list of personal accolades.

Nacewa has featured three times in the Pro 14 Team of the Year, been nominated for European Player of the Year, Leinster Player of the Year and the IRUPA Player of the Year.

It's hard not to imagine what might have been if he had never left our shores.

Nacewa was a valuable member of the Blues and Auckland, but was ineligible to represent the All Blacks after a two-minute cameo from the bench for Fiji in 2003.

Evans is the fourth leading point scorer in English Premiership history.
Evans is the fourth leading point scorer in English Premiership history. Photo credit: Photosport

Nick Evans

Evans left for England in 2008, after being overlooked for New Zealand's Tri Nations squad.

Having lived in the shadow of All Blacks great Daniel Carter, the first-five made just 16 appearances in the black jersey, after successful stints with both the Highlanders and the Blues.

The move to Harlequins would prove a masterstroke and he became an instrumental part of the English Premiership side.

He played nine years for the London-based club, amassing 208 appearances and more than 2220 points, making Evans the fourth leading point scorer in Premiership history, the best by any overseas player and more than Jonny Wilkinson.

His most successful season undoubtedly came in 2012, when he was awarded the RPA Players' Player of the Year, after steering the Harlequins to a Premiership title, kicking six penalties and one conversion in their win over the Leicester Tigers.

Gopperth was awarded three major awards for his performances for the Wasps last season.
Gopperth was awarded three major awards for his performances for the Wasps last season. Photo credit: Photosport

Jimmy Gopperth

If Evans was in Carter's shadow, then Gopperth was in his.

The former Hurricanes and Blues first-five failed to make a single appearance for New Zealand, with the closest being a single outing for the Junior All Blacks.

Gopperth was an integral member of the Hurricanes for four seasons, before a move north to the Blues spelt the end of his Super Rugby career.

He spent just the one season in Auckland, before joining the Newcastle Falcons in 2009 on a three-year deal, tasked with filling the boots of the departing Wilkinson.

Gopperth's move immediately paid dividends and he was the Premiership's top scorer in his first two seasons with the Falcons.

He played 70 games for Newcastle, scoring more than 700 points, before signing with Leinster to replace Jonny Sexton.

He spent two seasons in Ireland, before returning to England to play for Wasps and despite being on the back-end of his career, he again thrived.

During the 2016/17 season, Gopperth won three major awards - the Aviva Premiership Player of the Year, RPA Players' Player of the Year and Wasps' Player of the Year.

Hayman (right) pictured with former All Black, Ali Williams after Toulon's Championship Cup win in 2015.
Hayman (right) pictured with former All Black, Ali Williams after Toulon's Championship Cup win in 2015. Photo credit: Photosport

Carl Hayman

Hayman is undoubtedly one of the best props in the business and it's a crying shame he only played 45 games for New Zealand.

He made his debut in 2001 against Samoa, where he became the 1000th All Black to put on the black jersey.

Hayman compiled a legendary career for the Highlanders, making 81 appearances, before Newcastle offered him a deal too good to turn down.

He signed a three-year contract with the Falcons, reportedly worth NZ$1 million a season, making him the highest-paid rugby player in the world.

Despite 64 appearances for the club, he enjoyed the most success after moving to Top-14 powerhouse Toulon.

Despite the French club's impressive cashflow and foreign player influence, Hayman was an invaluable member of their side for the next five seasons.

He made 145 appearances and was a part of three European Cup title-winning sides, as well as capturing a Top 14 championship.

Masoe forged a successful career in France's Top 14.
Masoe forged a successful career in France's Top 14. Photo credit: Photosport

Chris Masoe

Hayman's former teammate at Toulon, Chris Masoe, has also made a name for himself in France.

The 20-game All Black and former Hurricanes loose forward signed for Castres in 2008, overcame the cultural shift and took the Top 14 by storm.

Masoe made more than 100 appearances for the club, where he was awarded the Top14 Rugbyman of the Year in his final season.

But Masoe finally became a champion after moving to Toulon.

He spent three seasons at the club, winning three European Cup titles and earning a reputation as one of the most powerful backrowers in the competition.

He left the club for one final swansong with Racing Metro 92, which won the Top 14 title and finished runners-up in the European Cup, before he retired to become the side's defence coach.

Hamilton won three English Premiership titles with the Leicester Tigers.
Hamilton won three English Premiership titles with the Leicester Tigers. Photo credit: Photosport

Scott Hamilton

Hamilton was part of the Crusaders team that won three Super Rugby titles in four years, so made it sense for him to join Leicester Tigers in 2008.

The two-time capped All Black made immediately name for himself on the right wing where his habit for team success continued.

Hamilton was named the Newcomer of the year in his first season with the club after his 10 tries in 22 outings led the Tigers to an English Premiership title.

The following campaign, he inspired Leicester to a second successive Premiership title off the back of his seven tries on the season, as well as a runners-up performance in the European Cup, where they went down to Nacewa's Leinster.

He'd add one more Premiership title in 2013 before finishing his career with the Tigers after notching 145 appearances and 33 tries.

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