On the frontline
October 22, 2009
Fran Cotton - ahead of his time © Getty Images
Mad, bad, dangerous to know. The boys wearing No.1 and No.3 are the pillars of any great side, leading from the front.
Props rarely get the coverage afforded to a fleet-footed winger, crusading flanker or magisterial fly-half but their contribution at the coal-face makes them the heartbeat of a side.
With rising panic in England caused by injuries to Andrew Sheridan and Phil Vickery, we salute the best practitioners of the dark arts in our latest Scrum Seven.
Carl Hayman - New Zealand
Reportedly rugby's highest-paid player, Hayman's move from Otago to Newcastle following the 2007 Rugby World Cup was a rare box-office moment for the front-row union. Hayman, a 45-cap All Black following his debut against Samoa in 2001, combines raw power with a fine tactical understanding of the game and is currently leading the Falcons.
At 6'4'', Hayman is not a classical prop but his appetite for the destructive side of the position makes him a much-missed part of the All Black setup. He will likely be lured back to the international stage for the 2011 Rugby World Cup in New Zealand.
Fran Cotton - England & British & Irish Lions
Known to many for staring out from behind a big pair of glasses as part of the coaching staff on the 1997 Lions tour to South Africa, Cotton helped to change the face of front-row play in the 1970s. At over six feet tall he was seen as too lofty for the position, but his remarkable conditioning and commitment made him a fixture of both the England and Lions setup.
He played seven Tests for the Lions and in a testament to his skill, four came on the tight-head side as part of the 'Invincibles' squad that left South Africa unbeaten in 1974 and three came as a loose-head in New Zealand in 1977. Couple this with that iconic picture in the mud against the Junior All Blacks in '77 and you've got a bona-fide legend.
Graham Price - Wales & British & Irish Lions
No list of the greatest props would be complete without a member of the lauded Pontypool front-row. Alongside Charlie Faulkner and hooker Bobby Windsor, Graham Price became a hero of the Welsh game. His name is uttered with the same reverence afforded to JPR, Gerald and Co after he formed the bedrock of the late 1970s Wales pack. His Test debut brought one of the most famous Five Nations tries, a length of the field effort against France at the Parc des Princes. No need for a prop's exaggerations here.
Outside of his exertions alongside the other members of the 'Viet-Gwent', Price excelled in a Lions jersey. His debut came in New Zealand in 1977, having missed out on the Lions' glory years, and he went on to win 12 Test caps before his retirement in 1983, making him the most capped Lions prop of them all.
Wilson Whineray - New Zealand
Whineray is widely regarded as one of the all-time great All Black skippers with his tactical awareness belying his role as a prop. Quick and mobile enough to play some of his rugby at No.8, Whineray graduated to the All Blacks captaincy at the tender age of 23.
Before winning his first Test cap in 1957 he had already tasted two victories over a touring Springbok side in the colours of Canterbury and New Zealand Universities. He led his side to a series win over the Lions in 1958 before facing down a fearsome Springboks pack, and opposite number Piet du Toit in 1960. While his side lost the series 2-1 in South Africa, he took on the challenge and emerged a better player after criticism of his scrummaging skills.
Os du Randt - South Africa
The 'Ox' enjoyed a storied career at the top of the game in South Africa. He started the famous 1995 Rugby World Cup final at Ellis Park, getting a winner's medal as Nelson Mandela and Francois Pienaar created one of the iconic moments in sport.
Twelve years later he was at it again, playing the full 80 minutes at the Stade de France as the Springboks claimed the title again with a 15-6 win over England. Du Randt had fought back from a serious injury, which robbed him of three years of his career, to reclaim his place at the heart of the international setup. A powerhouse scrummager and a tireless, reliable workhorse, Du Randt was a one-off.
Ian McLauchlan - Scotland & British & Irish Lions
A late bloomer, McLauchlan was 27 when he made his international debut against England in 1969. Regardless, he went on to have a 10-year international career during which he ascended to the very top of the game.
'Mighty Mouse' as he was christened due to his diminutive stature, found out many an opponent with his low centre of gravity and ability to get underneath when scrummaging. Taken to New Zealand by the Lions in 1971 as an understudy, he stepped in to the breach following an injury to Sandy Carmichael and played in all four Tests as the tourists took the series.
Three years later, having turned out against England in a Calcutta Cup match with a broken bone in his leg in 1973, McLauchlan joined Cotton in the Lions' front-row as they left South Africa unbeaten. He only lost once in red.
Jason Leonard - England & British & Irish Lions
Leonard was a fixture of the England side for 14 years, playing on three Lions tours and ending his career with 119 international caps. In his youth he was a mobile prop, bulking up as the demands of the game changed with professionalism.
Leonard played 290 games for Harlequins and was in the England front-row as Australia defeated them in the 1991 Rugby World Cup final at Twickenham. Proof of his longevity came in 2003 when he has his revenge, coming on as a replacement in the World Cup final as Jonny Wilkinson's drop-goal secured the spoils.