Jeremy Guscott proved the difference on multiple occasions throughout his career. The Englishman is now considered one of the greatest centres to have played the game
Major teams: Bath
Test span: 1989-99
England caps: 65 (62 starts)
Lions caps: 8 (8 starts)
Test points: 150 (31T, 3DG)
The grander the stage, the greater the response – that’s what Lions legend Ian McGeechan calls the hallmark of a “Test-match animal”. And in Jeremy Guscott, the elegant Englishman whose gliding running graced international rugby for a decade, he found just such a player.
The Bathonian took centre stage for the Lions not once but twice, making crucial interventions to steer the tourists to series success eight years apart. His first act, against the 1989 Wallabies, came in only his second Test after he had become the first England debutant to score a hat-trick since Dan Lambert against France in 1907.
That feat, in Romania, set McGeechan’s antenna twitching and when Will Carling withdrew from the Lions tour with shin splints, he thrust the 24-year-old apprentice bricklayer into his Lions squad. Guscott rewarded his faith with a glorious winning try to turn the series, stabbing a grubber kick behind the Aussie midfield, stepping on the accelerator and gathering the beneficent bounce to score under the posts. “It was a mega moment,” he said.
It was the first of many as Guscott established himself alongside Carling in a titanic England midfield partnership. Guscott’s blistering acceleration enabled him to track runners and exploit line breaks – when he wasn’t making them himself. He racked up the scores for club and country, and might have been even more prolific had he been paired with his kindred spirit at Bath, the fly-half Stuart Barnes. They played together for England just twice.
Guscott’s effortless pace also helped make him a marvellous defender, as he showed on the 1993 Lions tour to New Zealand.
Three Grand Slams and fourth place on England’s all-time try list with 30 would give him superstar status even without his Lions heroics, which reached new heights with his drop-goal in Durban to beat the 1997 Springboks. It was an instinctive moment of magic from a player who always kicked beautifully, having been a goalkicker and fly-half until 19.
Guscott retired after a groin injury at the 1999 World Cup. After working in his salad days as a bus driver, model and PR man as well as a bricklayer, he now works for the BBC as a rugby pundit.