Never back down: Julian White may be a lovely man, but he took no prisoners for Leicester, England or the Lions

By Alan Dymock

“CAN YOU pick a definitive list of rugby’s hard men?” is one of those nice innocuous questions – the kind that comes up in the pub, once you’ve discussed who would win in a fight between a wolf and 2,000 kittens – that ends up stoking a raging argument that lasts for hours.

So when we started discussing it in the Rugby World office, we quickly realised that boundaries were needed.

Opening it up to Twitter only added to the confusion, with names flying all around. With such a passion-inflaming question everyone was pitching in with fond memories of skulduggery and bravery. At one point the IRFU pitched in:

"Like a slack-jawed bear": Second-row Martin Johnson

It was at this point that it was decided that ‘hardest’ means tough and not afraid of a fight, but not nasty; just a tireless, fearless competitor. It was also decided – sorry to those of a dustier vintage and history buffs – that the modern, professional era was where our list of heroes would come from. So the likes of Colin ‘Pinetree’ Meads, Wayne ‘Buck’ Shelford, Bobby ‘The Duke’ Windsor, Peter Winterbottom, Mike Teague, Jean Pierre Rives, David Leslie, Finlay Calder and countless more miss out on this list.

So without further ado, here is the Magnificent Seven: an unofficial, totally subjective, factless, tactless list of the hard cases of rugby in the professional age.

Julian White If ever there was a prop who relished scrums on his own line it was Julian White. Unfliching in the face of conflict? He was certainly unfamiliar with a backwards step. Free-flowing with the right-handers? Well, it’s not our place to say… If ever you needed convincing of his place on the list you only need ask some of the hard cases who dealt with him:

Lofty praise.

Danny Grewcock

He may have been sin-binned regularly, but he was there, we’re sure, for standing up for his mates. A consummate team player and a gritty performer in the boilerhouse, he was the same wherever he played: full on for Bath or for England or for the Lions.

Jamie Cudmore

“He’s a thug!” some of you may say, and yes he has a bit of a murky past before rugby saved him, but there’s a reason he keeps playing in the big games for Clermont Auvergne. Like Mr Muscle, he does the tough jobs so others don’t have to. Part of a knee-knocking second-row partnership with Nathan ‘Wagga’ Hines.

A shirt-makers nightmare: Bakkies Botha

Bakkies Botha

Another victim of bad press, Botha is a sweetheart really. Sure he hits rucks like Stock, Aitken and Waterman hit the 80s and he has grabbed more shirts than your average dry cleaners, but he smiles while he does it.

He earned every ban he has gotten and sometimes he takes it too far, but when it is all over we will fondly remember the full-blooded South African who never got the credit he deserved for being a brilliant player as well.

Martin Johnson

The image of Johnno with two opposition players in his hands will live on forever and the ogre-ish way he lifted the Webb Ellis trophy sideways, roaring like a slack-jawed bear will be an eternal reminder of the lock’s approach to the game.

Johnson had stellar success in his career, but he always played every match like a wounded beast. One of the game’s true greats.

Richie McCaw

Tough, picking between McCaw and Jerry Collins, but McCaw almost single-handedly won the 2011 Rugby World Cup with an obliterated foot. He couldn’t train, but he could dominate rugby games. He’s probably had more stitches than a first-time cross country class.

How often must McCaw get punched at the ruck and we don’t get to see? A lot, I’m guessing.

Schalk Burger

The guy is making a comeback from bacterial meningitis, after an operation on his spine and calf and knee problems. He cannot be stopped. Not by conventional means, anyway. We all know who he is. Did you know he’s only 30? He’ll probably hang a round forever, waiting to run 20 yards towards every single ruck.

Missing: Collins, looking like a pumped-up pint of Guinness

Undoubtedly one of the hardest brutes in recent years.

My Word, look at the reserve list:

Honourable mentions must go out to these fellas. Deep Breath. Thierry Dusautoir, Serge Betsen, Stephen Ferris, Paul O’Connell, Brian ‘The Chiroractor’ Lima, Martyn Williams, Lewis Moody, Jerry Collins, Nathan Hines, Mario Ladesma, Mamuka ‘Gorgodzilla’ Gorgodze, Jason White, Brian O’Driscoll and Jonny Wilkinson.

There will be countless more but please don’t shout at us. This is just a bit of fun!

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