The Gods of Rugby Heaven: The hookers

All Blacks legend: Sean Fitzpatrick Photo: Craig Golding

Sean Fitzpatrick. Photo: Getty Images

Sean Fitzpatrick (New Zealand) One of the craftiest hookers to walk the playing field. Fitzpatrick was thrust into the limelight on the eve of the 1987 World Cup when injury ruled out first-choice All Blacks rake and skipper Andy Dalton. Such was Fitzpatrick’s impact he kept Dalton out of the team even when the skipper was declared fit again. He played in three World Cups, skippering the powerful All Blacks side that dominated all comers at the 1995 World Cup until they ran into South Africa in the final. His duels with Wallabies hooker Phil Kearns were legendary.

Phil Kearns (R). Photo: Reuters

Phil Kearns (Australia) The only hooker to win two World Cups. Phil Kearns was plucked out of Randwick reserve grade – where he was the deputy to Eddie Jones – in 1989 to face the All Blacks, ousting long-serving rake Tom Lawton. The selection was a masterstroke as Kearns quickly grew on the international stage forming a formidable front-row unit with Ewen McKenzie and Tony Daly that anchored Australia’s 1991 World Cup win. Kearns featured in the 1995 tournament and although he was in the twilight of his career in 1999, he still played twice in the Wallabies’ successful campaign.

Mario Ledesma. Photo: Simon Alekna

Mario Ledesma (Argentina) The Pumas have always been renowned for their scrummaging and to be Argentina’s most capped hooker says something for Ledesma’s ability. A renowned, consistent performer at the highest level with a prodigious work ethic, Ledesma was the Pumas’ first-choice rake at the past four World Cups. The highlight was his leadership of the Argentina pack at the 2007 World Cup that drove the team to its only semi-final appearance. Ledesma is the scrum coach for the Wallabies at this year’s tournament.

John Smit. Photo: AP

John Smit (South Africa) A leader of men. Much like Graeme Smith in cricket, Smit was appointed South African captain at a young age and held the job for many years. There is a symmetry to the numbers, he represented the Springboks 111 times over 11 years, including a record run of 46 Tests between 2004 and 2007 that was a testament to his durability. He led the Springboks to success at the 2007 World Cup and held the job in 2011 despite the pressure from renowned rake Bismarck du Plessis whose form at times forced Smit to play tighthead prop.

Keven Mealamu. Photo: Steve Christo

Keven Mealamu (New Zealand) For 13 years and 126 matches, Mealamu has lined up in the front-row for the All Blacks. The 2015 tournament is set to be his fourth World Cup appearance that has encompassed 18 matches and only one loss – against Australia in the semi-final in 2003. Mealamu was the starting hooker for the All Blacks when they broke their World Cup drought in 2011. His first Bledisloe Cup series was in 2003 when the All Blacks reclaimed the trophy from the Wallabies and he has featured in all 12 successful cup defences since. He announced his impending international retirement in August.

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