Major teams: Agen
Test span: 1982-95
Test caps: 111 (110 starts)
Test points: 125 (30T)
Rugby’s Greatest: Philippe Sella
For becoming the first player to win 100 Test caps, Philippe Sella is guaranteed a place in rugby’s hall of fame. The gallery of leading French threequarters is adorned by the portraits of artists who were touched by genius, but when he retired as the game’s most-capped player in 1995 he had 111 caps and was universally appreciated as one of rugby’s old masters.
Sella had entered the French side in the autumn of 1982, playing on the wing after gaining the unusual distinction of winning school, youth and student honours.
As a stripling with a zest for total rugby, he was a fast and elusive runner. But the natural toughness and easy fitness that went with his rural Garonne upbringing perfectly equipped him for a role in the French XV at centre, a position he quickly made his own.
The quality that marked Sella out among the panoply of brilliant French threequarters was the range of his skills. His flair for attacking rugby placed him on the same pedestal as the Boniface brothers, Jo Maso, Didier Codorniou and Denis Charvet.
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But the extra dimension to his game that his illustrious predecessors lacked was stoical defence. By his own admission Sella relished making a clattering tackle as much as any of the 30 Test tries he scored.
In Brothers in Arms, Patrick Estève recalls: “In the 1984 game against England, [John] Carleton did a scissors with their centre and he came down Sella’s channel. He just smashed him. I stood there and watched in awe at his timing, technique and power.”
Yet Sella was a lethal finisher, too, and his bagful of tries included one in each Five Nations match in 1986, when he became only the fourth player in the championship’s history to perform the feat, and a lung-bursting 65-metre score against England at Twickenham in 1987 that bore all the hallmarks of his class.
When he retired in 1994 as the world’s best all-round centre of the decade, he left a huge vacuum in les Bleus back-line. One that, arguably, the French have never managed to fill.