The Gods of Rugby Heaven: The second-rowers

Can you match the experts?

Paul Ackford. Photo: Getty Images

Paul Ackford (England)

A former Metropolitan Police inspector born in Hanover in West Germany, Paul Ackford, now 57, first left his mark as an international player on November 5, 1988 when at age 30, the Harlequins player made his Test debut against the Wallabies.

Ackford played in all three Tests of the 1989 British and Irish Lions tour to Australia that the Lions won. He played for England in the 1991 Five Nations grand slam winning side and retired after that year’s World Cup with 25 caps for England.

He then became, and still is, a rugby columnist for The Sunday Telegraph newspaper in London.

Mark Andrews. Photo: Reuters

Mark Andrews (South Africa)

Mark Andrews made his debut for South Africa not as a Springbok, but as a water polo player selected to represent his country while still a schoolboy. From Elliot in the Eastern Cape, Andrews still excelled at rugby union early and played in Natal’s Currie Cup-winning side in 1995 and 1996.

After his Springbok debut against England in Cape Town in 1994, Andrews, now 43, played 77 Tests and 13 midweek games and scored 12 tries for the Springboks for a total of 60 points. He also played in the 1995 World Cup-winning Springboks side.

John Eales. Photo: Getty Images

John Eales (Australia)

John Eales was blessed with superb skills; so much so, he was nicknamed “Nobody” due to the Australian’s response when asked about his ability that “Nobody’s perfect”. He not only excelled as a second-rower, but as a leader. Eales also captained the Wallabies to their 1999 World Cup win after playing for Australia in their 1991 World Cup win.

Remarkably, he also scored 173 points for Australia, but mainly through kicks – 99 of his points were through penalties and 69 from conversions. He scored only two tries. Now 45, he retired in 2001 with 86 Test caps, and captained Australia for 56 of them.

Martin Johnson. Photo: Getty Images

Martin Johnson (England)

An icon of English sport, let alone rugby, Martin Johnson led England brilliantly to their 2003 World Cup triumph when they beat Australia in the final in Sydney. A no-nonsense leader, Johnson, now 45, was physically imposing and led England to five Six Nations titles – including two grand slams.

Johnson also helped Leicester Tigers to five premiership titles and two Heineken Cups, and captained the British and Irish and Lions for two of his three tours. He retired from Test rugby after the 2003 World Cup with 92 caps – 84 for England and eight with the Lions.

Ian Jones (R). Photo: Reuters

Ian Jones (New Zealand)

In a career that included 79 Tests for the All Blacks, Ian Jones was half of what many rated as the most impressive of second rows with Robin Brooke from 1992 to 1998. Jones may have lacked the size of his peers, but he made up for that with sheer skill.

From Whangarei, Jones, now 48, debuted for the All Blacks at age 23 in 1990 against Scotland in Dunedin, scoring a try as he did in 1996 in his 50th Test versus Scotland. A lineout expert, Jones was one of the first to play 100 games for the All Blacks – he retired with 105 games, including 79 Tests in which nine of his 14 tries were scored.

Victor Matfield. Photo: Fiona Goodall

Victor Matfield (South Africa)

A rugby icon in South Africa, Victor Matfield, now 38, was known for his aerial skills in the lineout – in winning his side’s own ball and disrupting the opposition’s. It was a crucial element that helped the Springboks to win the 2007 World Cup in France in a player-of-the-tournament performance.

However, Matfield’s athleticism – he competed in javelin at school – was evident in all aspects of his game, from set piece to general play. The ex-Springbok captain retired after the 2011 World Cup. But after two years he returned to play for the Bulls in 2014 and Springboks with whom he has earned 122 caps.

Paul O’Connell. Photo: Lawrence Smith

Paul O’Connell (Ireland)

One of rugby’s most credentialled leaders, Paul O’Connell has captained Munster, Ireland and the British and Irish Lions. The Limerick-born second-rower who is now 35 was initially a swimmer and excelled in the sport.

But once he started rugby at 16 he found himself on an upward trajectory through school and under-age categories. With 109 Test caps of which 102 are for Ireland and seven for the Lions, O’Connell will play for the French Top 14 side Toulon after the World Cup in which he will lead Ireland in a possibly fabulous swansong.

Olivier Roumat (L). Photo: Reuters

Olivier Roumat (France)

Versatility was a key to the career of Frenchman Olivier Roumat’s rugby DNA, with him having played at No.8, No.7 and as a second-rower; and not just in France.

Roumat, now 49 and who earned 61 Test caps for France from 1989 to 1996, won two French titles – with Stade Francais in 1997-98 and Biarritz Olympique in 2001-02, and played in South Africa for the Natal Sharks in 1995, winning the Currie Cup. In the World Cup, Roumat played five games in both the 1991 and 1995 tournaments. Roumat also played in six Five Nations tournaments for France, winning in 1993.

Brad Thorn. Photo: Getty Images

Brad Thorn (New Zealand)

The 59-capped All Black was the first player to win a World Cup, Super Rugby and Heineken Cup title. In rugby league, Thorn, now 40, played for the Brisbane Broncos and Queensland in State of Origin.

In union, the Canterbury Crusaders second-rower played in the 2003, 2007 and 2011 World Cups – winning the latter, held in New Zealand. Thorn was also known as one of the most physically intimidating and hard-working players.

Gary Whetton. Photo: Getty Images

Gary Whetton (New Zealand)

Capped 58 times for New Zealand from 1981 to 1991, Auckland stalwart Gary Whetton, who also captained the All Blacks on 15 occasions, made his Test debut at Eden Park against South Africa. That debut was in the deciding of three Tests in which flour bombs were dropped from a plane in protest to South Africa’s apartheid policy. Whetton went on the unofficial 1986 New Zealand Cavaliers tour to South Africa for which he was banned for two games. Now 55, he played in the inaugural World Cup in 1987 that the All Blacks won.

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