Major teams: Saracens
Test span: 1997-2005
England caps: 71 (68 starts)
Lions caps: 5 (5 starts)
Test points: 60 (12T)
Rugby’s Greatest: Richard Hill
Soon after joining Saracens in 1993, Richard Hill was asked by coach John Davies what he would do if Mike Teague, the Moseley back-row, came thundering towards him in the upcoming match? Davies was looking for a suitably aggressive reply but Hill answered: “Hopefully I’ll get in a good position to tackle him.”
Hill always was understated, but he got in good positions time and time again for England and the Lions. This selfless back-rower was called the unsung hero of the great England team of the early Noughties, yet the many tributes to him make a mockery of the tag.
Initially an openside, in which role he played for the 1997 Lions in South Africa, Hill became one of the all-time great No 6s after Clive Woodward implemented the legendary Dallaglio-Hill-Back unit at half-time against New Zealand during his second Test in charge.
Hill’s decision-making and technique at the breakdown provided the oil for England’s engine. He had all the skills – he kicked goals as a youngster and scored 12 Test tries – but it was in the tight exchanges that he came into his own. He seldom lost his individual battles.
Famously, Woodward never dropped him. When Hill damaged a hamstring in the 2003 World Cup opener against Georgia, the coach refused to summon a replacement. Hill had played only a game and a half since June when he played in the November semi-final, and two years later he was picked for the Lions after only two halves of rugby in six months – that’s how important he was.
Once chased by Wigan RL after scoring a hat-trick in a divisional match, Hill hailed from the Salisbury club but played all his pro rugby for Saracens, chalking up 288 appearances.
Sadly, injuries featured heavily in his career, such as the concussion halfway through the 2001 Lions series that many believe turned things Australia’s way. An ACL injury sustained in 2004 would have finished most people but remarkably Hill battled on after two knee reconstructions before accepting the inevitable.
Since retiring in 2008, Hill has worked for Saracens and the RFU. In 2014 he was appointed RFU Player Pathway Liaison Manager, identifying and mentoring young players. Two years later, he became England’s team manager under Eddie Jones, a position he still holds.