Richard Hill goes down as one of the greatest blindsides to play the game. His decision-making and technique at the breakdown provided the oil for England’s engine
Major teams: Saracens
Test span: 1997-2005
England caps: 71 (68 starts)
Lions caps: 5 (5 starts)
Test points: 60 (12T)
Soon after joining Saracens in 1993, 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 victorious 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 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, and he seldom lost his individual battles.
Woodward famously never dropped him, and when Hill damaged a hamstring in the RWC 2003 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.