January 16th 2013 -
When you talk
about rugby to someone from New Zealand there are a few things to point out,
for example there are five Super 15 franchises that most New Zealander's
support, the Blues, Chiefs, Hurricanes, Crusaders & Highlanders. There are
also many provincial teams that play in the ITM Cup.
you're lucky, you'll come across a guy who would tell you stories about men
getting testicles ripped off, men getting hit with flourbombs, men knocking
other men out on the field, no this isn't the five greatest rugby players, that
is only because I feel there can not be a single top team or even a top World
XV, no this is the five toughest bastards to have ever laced up the rugby boots
and run onto the rugby pitch.
(Disclaimer note: The following list is the opinion of one man, if you feel
there are mentions or my list is wrong, well feel free to discuss it either on
my Facebook page (http://www.facebook.com/GunJack) or on my Twitter (@DaChadUnleashed)
or on here on the comments section)
Anyways lets get
this list started with the man who knocked out two men in one game, a man who
played in 50's...
Kevin Skinner (New Zealand)
Born in Dunedin
in 1927, Kevin Lawrence Skinner began playing rugby for his school, St Kevin's
College in Oamaru in 1943 and 1944 in which he became the captain. He
represented Otago for most of his rugby career, and in between all that he was
also a fine boxing athlete, claiming the Otago Heavyweight Championship in 1946,
and the NZ Heavyweight Title a year later...
This gave him the reputation of a hard man, but it was solidified when in 1956,
after he came out of retirement to play two test matches against the
Springboks, in one match he became revered in New Zealand and world rugby
circles, when Skinner knocked out two big burly props from South Africa in
Chris Koch and Jaap Bekker.
For a man from
the South, he sure knows how to bring down two burly men from Springbok state,
the next man who jumps into this high prestegious list, hails from France, had
blondish like hair, and was one of France's most highly regarded men of the
sport, you would say he was an icon of French rugby... no I'm not talking about
Sebastian Chebal, in fact... I'm talking about...
A champion of the
French Rugby game and now a well regarded artist, Jean-Pierre was well regarded
for many things, but the one thing that sticks out for all French rugby fans
was his long blond locks and for most of his 59 test matches, in which 34 of
those tests were as captain, he was also known to wear (as JR would sometimes
say in the Attitude Era) the crimson mask. Yes, this was in the era before
blood bins were called, and play was stopped because of cuts and gashes.
There wasn't a man who faced Jean-Pierre who didn't witness his crimson mask, a
mask much more important than the Phantom in the Phantom of the Opera, no his
mask defined a rugby team's heart, self belief and toughness that has seen the
French Rugby team become one of the most respected, and one of the most well
known rugby players in history.
Martin Johnson (England)
In 2003, his crowning glory in his rugby career was taking the hopes of a
nation and winning the Rugby World Cup as captain, but very few fans know that
the inspirational lock from Soilhull, West Midlands in England played his early
career for King Country in New Zealand thanks to a meeting by a certain
“Pinetree” During his time in King Country, he was good enough to be selected
for the New Zealand Under 21 side in 1990.
But it wasn't
long before he returned home partly due to his then NZ girlfriend (and later
wife) He played all his club rugby in the UK for one club, Leicester Tigers
from 1989 to 2006, he became captain for the 1st XV in 1997 after
previous captain Dean Richards semi-retired from the game. During his run as
captain for the club he led his team to four Zurich Premiership titles and two
As for his International career? His International career is storied as his
debut only came at last minute, after being unexpectedly summoned to Twickenham
to cover an injury, he debuted against France in January 1993, despite
suffering a early knock to the head and being thrown into the deep end, he
played superbly as he went on to help England win 16-15, he also went on to
help win the team the 1995 Grand Slam.
He also captained the British Lions Tour of 1997 & 2001, being the only man
to captain the prestigous team twice. He went on to coach the England Rugby
Team, and in 2011 at the IRB Awards in Auckland, Martin Johnson was finally
inducted into the IRB Hall of Fame. And all this happened while he became the
man that many young rugby players aspire to... a large, hard ass who wasn't
afraid to bowl you over with a hard tackle or throw a punch when it just wasn't
enough, not convinced go search “Martin Johnson rugby fights” on YouTube. That
should convince you.
In an era where
rugby was for the hardmen of rugby, the “Pinetree” as many aptly named him was
a man who dominated the rugby scene from the 50's to 1971. A man who was raised
on a sheep farm in Te Kuiti, Colin Meads, like Martin Johnson earlier, played
all his club rugby for one team, that being King Country (rings a bell doesn't
it?) from 1955 to 1972. His first game for King Country was a taste of what was
to come from the man, scoring his first try and even producing a drop goal
(which is rare for a forward especially for a lock)
career is a very storied one indeed, tales of Colin Meads becoming the “enforcer”
of the team which in one story tells of Meads being sent off for dangerous play
against Scotland in Murrayfield in 1967, which is significant because at the
time he was only the second rugby player to have ever been sent off the field.
His most storied incident during his rugby career came in 1970 while on tour in
South Africa playing a game against Eastern Transvaal. During the game, Colin
Mead got into a particually vicious ruck in which he emerged from the ruck with
his arm dangling. Surpisingly to everyone's amazement, he played the rest of
the game with the arm still hanging like a floppy fish. After the match when
the doctor cut the shirt away and confirmed the break, Meads famously muttered
“At least we won the bloody game”
Colin Meads went on become a legend of the game, holding the record for longest
period of captaincy (not consecutive games) from 1960 to 1971, after retiring
as a player in 1973 he became the Chairman of his beloved King Country club and
in 1986 was made a member of the national
selection panel. However it wasn't for long as he was fired for coaching an
unauthorized rugby team named the New Zealand Cavaliers to a tour of apartheid
Despite all this, he went on to be elected to the NZ Rugby Union Council in 1992
and left in 1996 and during the time was the manager of the All Blacks in 1994
& 1995. He was named Player of the Century at the 1999 NZRFU Awards dinner,
became an inductee of both the International Rugby Hall of Fame and the New
Zealand Hall of Fame. And in May 2009 was given the honnor of Knighthood making
him Sir Colin Meads.
Finally in what some could consider the highest honnor, in 2006 the second tier
competition Heartland Championship named their trophy the Meads Cup, in which
his beloved King Country is part of. So much achievement for a man who once
played rugby with a broken freaking arm!
Wayne “Buck” Shelford (New Zealand)
Now let's be honnest for a minute, if you haven't heard the name “Buck
Shelford” then you don't know much about rugby. Let alone a national icon of
the game, the man who originally came from Rotorua, has become something of a
world wide icon of the game of rugby. Now you have to bear in mind, this man is
intimidating not just as a rugby player but when you first meet the man in
person, which I had the honnor of doing so.
Anyways enough of that lets get to the points of why Buck Shelford is a legend
of the game, starting his playing days in college for Western Heights High
School in Rotorua. Before long he was playing represenative rugby for both Bay
of Plenty Secondary Schools and later for Auckland, rising through the age
grade ranks before debuting for Auckland in 1982. Three years after his debut
he moved to the newly formed North Harbour Rugby Union in which his local club
was part of.
His first game as a All Black was in October 1985 in which he played against
Club Atlético San Isidro in Buenos Aires, Argentina. He was also a part of the
Cavaliers team that travelled to South Africa. (See the degrees of seperation
Shelford, Meads and Johnson have?) His Test debut later in the year against
France provided the most greusome incident of rugby history. In what many call
the “Battle of Nantes” during the second test against France...
About twenty minutes into the game, Shelford got caught in the bottom of a
typical ruck, however it was during this particular ruck, that a boot of a
French player (Which still, to this day no one knows which player it was)
caught the boot of Shelford's groin and somehow ripping his scrotum and leaving
a testicle hanging loose... yes you heard me right, Wayne “Buck” Shelford had
his scrotum ripped open. Now most men would be sent straight to the hospital as
soon as it happened. Not Buck, oh no... this is what made Buck a god in rugby.
After realizing the injury, he ran off the field and calmly asked the physio to
stitch up the injury, after having the scrotum stitched up by the physio he
returned to the field, although that was brief as well as ended up coming off
the field due to a nasty blow to the head, which left Buck with concussion and
watched the rest of the game on the sidelines. He also lost four teeth in that
ruck. France went on to win the second test 16-3.
Buck was also a
part of the first Rugby World Cup in 1987, in which he played five of the six
All Blacks game and was also a part of the winning team beating France,
although he almost never made it to the finals. The story goes that during the
Semi-Final match against Wales, Huw Richards of Wales punched All Blacks lock
Gary Whetton after a loose scrum, and Buck retaliated by punching Huw in
defence of his team-mate. Shelford escaped any punishment from officials while
Huw had the unfortunate honnor of becoming the first player to be sent off
during a Rugby World Cup game.
credited with teaching the proper way of doing the haka after taking over the
captaincy role after the Rugby World Cup in a test series agains Japan in 1987,
it was during his tenure as captain that two things occurred, a) he taught the
proper way of performing Ka Mate by showing him students from Te Aute College
performing a traditional haka before teaching it properly to his teammates and
b) the All Blacks won all their games with Buck as captain (with the exception
of a draw against Australia in 1988) between 1987 and 1990.
In 1990 he was
controversially dropped altogether from the All Blacks team because of the
belief by All Black selectors that he was not up to the standard of the team,
this incident infuriated All Blacks fans, and started a “Bring Back Buck”
campaign which grew into other sports such as cricket and tennis. Although he
never returned to the All Blacks team, he did continue playing, where he played
for Northampton in England and did a spell for Rugby Roma before retiring from
playing in 1995. He coached for some time in Britain, doing stints with
Saracens and Rugby Lions, however his heart was always with North Harbour and
returned to New Zealand to coach his beloved North Harbour as assistant coach
in 1997 and as head coach the following year.
Now days he is studying at Massey University in Auckland while coaching at his
former club, North Shore in Auckland. Buck Shelford was a man who many say had
the guts and glory of a winning captain, although it took a ripped testicle to
prove to the world that he had the absolute balls to become a legend of the
So there you have it, my five most toughest bastards of rugby. Much like
Antonio Cesaro of WWE, these men had the courage and balls to get in amongst
the rucks and mauls of rugby and show that if you mess with them you would be
on the floor staring at skies wondering why a tooth is missing. Although since
then officials of the sport take a much harder line to any sort of unruly
behaviour, you could bet your bottom dollar that these men made rugby into what
it has become today, one of the toughest sports of the generation.
Chad Soon is avid rugby fan, born & bred in the largest city in New
Zealand, Auckland City, when not talking about anything rugby union, Chad
normally spends his time in New Zealand's #1 wrestling promotion, Impact Pro
Wrestling (http://www.impactprowrestling.co.nz) If you want to follow Chad's
world, you can find him on Facebook (http://www.facebook.com/GunJack) on
Twitter (@DaChadUnleashed) or at his favourite spot the NZPWI Forums