Test span: 1995-2007
England caps: 85 (70 starts)
Lions caps: 3 (3 starts)
Test points: 85 (17T)
Rugby’s Greatest: Lawrence Dallaglio
It seems strange to say this after his garlanded career, but Lawrence Dallaglio’s finest hour was probably the 2004 tour ordeal in New Zealand. England travelled south as world champions and lost the Tests 36-3 and 36-12, yet you shudder to think what the scores would have been without their captain Dallaglio, whose courage and ferocious commitment in a hopeless cause was astonishing.
Dallaglio was never better when the chips were down, a point acknowledged by his former Wasps coach Shaun Edwards. “Like a great heavyweight in a dangerous title fight,” he adds, “he was at his best when it was all on the line.”
Ironically, England’s most capped No 8 started life in the backs; at Ampleforth, whom he helped to a National Schools Sevens double in 1989, he was a skinny wing/centre and even his first few appearances for Wasps were as a replacement for England flyer Chris Oti. Later, he was picked by England coach Jack Rowell as a No 7 ahead of Neil Back, but in time he found his niche as a six or eight – and he played magnificently in both those positions for the Lions during their 1997 Test-series triumph in South Africa.
Dallaglio was a classic ball-carrier, often the man to truck it up after receiving the kick-off, and as well as his fiery competitiveness and skills from the base of the scrum he possessed a huge engine. He was the only Englishman to play every minute of the 2003 World Cup, when he added a winner’s medal to the sevens equivalent collected in 1993. Only he and Matt Dawson have achieved this prize double.
Dallaglio once lost the England captaincy after a scurrilous tabloid sting, yet it speaks volumes that such a high-profile fall from grace is all but forgotten; that’s not just down to his career achievements – for Wasps, England and the Lions – but the heart-on-sleeve passion with which he represented both his country and his family, including the sister he tragically lost to a ferry disaster when he was 17. He is a people’s champion.