A not-so-exclusive club
August 19, 2010
South Africa captain John Smit will rack up his 100th Springboks appearance against New Zealand on Saturday © Getty Images
Springboks skipper John Smit will win his 100th international cap against the All Blacks in Johannesburg on Saturday and in the process become the latest member of what is becoming a not-so-exclusive club.
Smit will be the 15th player to rack up a century of Test appearances - and the fifth in the last year alone. Such are the increasing demands of the international season that he is set to be followed by a whole host of other big names between now and next year's Rugby World Cup - we take a look at those queuing behind the velvet rope in our latest Scrum Seven.
Martyn Williams (Wales, 99 Test caps)
Nugget has been around so long you could be forgiven for thinking he was there when William Webb Ellis picked up the ball on that fateful day at Rugby School. In fact, the 34-year-old Wales stalwart made his first international appearance in 1996 and has already been tempted out of retirement once - as a result the British & Irish Lions international is in line for another career landmark later this year. The flanker has battled back to fitness from his latest injury setback and is set to become only the second Welshman to achieve 100 Test caps after his former team-mate Gareth Thomas who is now pushing for international honours in the 13-man code.
Victor Matfield (South Africa, 98 Test caps)
Hot on the heels of Smit is another Springboks stalwart in veteran lock Matfield. The 33-year-old has already tasted Rugby World Cup, Tri-Nations, Super 14 and Currie Cup glory but with the Boks' current Tri-Nations campaign lying in tatters, his next honour will no doubt be a personal one. Barring injury, the reported brains behind the current crop of Springboks will become the latest centurion when his side play host to Australia in Pretoria later this month - and the fans at Matfield's long-term home are sure to pay a very special tribute.
Stephen Jones (Wales, 97 Test caps)
The 32-year-old fly-half Jones is another set to be celebrating before the year is out. Another to have earned honours with the Lions, he last saw action against the All Blacks in the summer - sharing the fly-half duties with rising star Dan Biggar. And while his young rival may get more game time in the coming months, Jones' experience will no doubt be close at hand with the lure of a fourth World Cup sure to be a major incentive.
Richie McCaw (New Zealand, 87 Test caps)
The youngest of our contenders, Captain Tackles will have to wait a little while before joining the sport's elite but is a sure fire bet to make the grade and may yet surpass the 139 Test caps mark of Wallabies legend George Gregan at the top of the all-time standings. But first in his sights will be former All Blacks hooker Sean Fitzpatrick whose 92 international appearances make him his country's most decorated player. But any potential personal achievement will be far from McCaw's mind as he spearheads New Zealand's bid to reclaim the World Cup crown. Defeat would be hard to take for a player stunned by his side's semi-final exit in 2003 and visibly broken by yet another high-profile failure against France in the 2007 quarter-finals. While victory would no doubt propel him to further international honours, another defeat could bring an abrupt end to the international career of one of the greatest players to have laced up a pair of boots.
Mils Muliaina (New Zealand, 87 Test caps)
Junior, to give him his proper name, is nothing of the sort. The age-defying fullback still has enough life in his legs to give the next generation of All Blacks game-breakers a run for their money. The Samoan-born star has a priceless rugby brain and remains one of the key weapons in coach Graham Henry's armoury despite having racked up a few miles on the clock since his 2003 debut. A third Rugby World Cup appearance awaits in 2011 and so does the magic mark of 100 Test caps.
Jonny Wilkinson (England, 86 Test caps)
If Wilkinson had not been plagued by injury for much of his international career he would have already coasted through the 100-cap mark and be closing in on Jason Leonard's England record of 119 Test appearances. As it is, he stands some way from becoming only the second Englishman into the club and given his injury record we are perhaps tempting fate by assuming he might. But back to form and fitness with French club Toulon, Wilkinson is still very much part of the England set-up but no longer the first-choice No.10 and it is that fact and not his battered body that may prevent the all-time leading Test points scorer cementing his place in the record books.
Nathan Sharpe (Australia, 85 Test caps)
If the Wagga Wagga native, and his Wallabies team-mate Matt Giteau (84 Test caps), are to join compatriots Gregan, Stephen Larkham, George Smith and David Campese, for a beer in the club next year they will have to hope that they are challenging for honours at the business end of the World Cup. Sharpe's legendary durability has served him well since he made his Wallabies bow in 2002 - he made 28 successive appearances in the Green and Gold between 2005 and 2007 - and he will require a similar gut-busting effort to get the job done before old father time catches up with him. Otherwise it'll have to be a cold tinny and a flutter on the TAB in his local.