The rugby centurions: A pseudoscientific analysis

Harry Jones Roar Guru

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    There are 48 international players who have 100 caps or more, and two more – Sam Whitelock and Tendai Mtawarira – will almost certainly soon join the centurion club.

    I will asssume they’ll make it to look at the 50 most capped players of all time and draw a few unscientific and statistically flawed conclusions – and to pose a few questions for The Roar rugby community.

    These 50 men have shown durability, a rugged ability to impress several test coaches and an ability to return from injury or setback.

    1. It helps to be Stephen
    Irish-born Queenslander Stephen Moore, Welsh sharpshooter Stephen Jones and Aussie legend Stephen Larkharm form a triumvirate of Stephanery. There are more Stephens in the 50 than scrum halves (George Gregan and Allesandro Troncan).

    Two observations: being the smallest and loudest player on the pitch is hazardous. Also, it’s rather nice to be able to refer to these rugby royals by a first name only: Victor, Mils, Percy, Sergio, Gethin and Dan. There are two Johns: Smit and Hayes.

    Martin Johnson and Martyn Williams cooperate with this item by using different spellings.

    (AAP Image/Joel Carrett)

    2. Forwards are (slightly) more durable
    The list of 50 skews slightly to the pack (28 of 50), compared to the 8:7 ratio of rugby. When we look at the 28 forwards we see only eight loosies. Tight five players (20) dominate: ten props, five hookers and five locks.

    Does being at the coalface prolong a career, or does the speed of the collisions and the need to leap for the high ball end too many outside backs’ careers? Only seven outside backs (three wings and four fullbacks) make the list.

    3. Is New Zealand number one at everything?
    Eight All Blacks form the biggest national contingent in the 50; Italy, Ireland, and Australia have six each. Remarkably only one Englishman – Jason Leonard – makes the list, with 119 caps. Of course there is an element of luck in not losing your best players to serious injury, but not all of it is random chance. Have New Zealand Rugby Union got a secret recipe? And why is England almost not able to make centurions?

    4. Surprising centres
    I imagined 100-test midfielders would be rare given the crashing car wrecks they suffer each game, yet included here are Brian O’Driscoll (141), Adam Ashley-Cooper (116), Philippe Sella (111), Jean de Villiers (109), Florin Vlaicu (105), Davit Kachavava (104), Ma’a Nonu (103) and Gareth Thomas (103). Adam Ashley-Cooper, JdV, and Nonu probably tackled each other 200 times.

    (Photo: AFP)

    5. Longevity does not equal leadership
    Many were famous captains – such as Richie McCaw, BOD, Moore, Sergio Parisse, Smit, Kieran Read, and de Villiers – but just as many were never really skipper types, like Nonu, Bryan Habana, Percy Montgomery and Adam Jone.

    6. Jones is the best surname if you want to be a legend
    Adam, Stephen, and Alun-Wyn set the standard. Let’s see if the Whitelocks or the Barretts can catch them.

    7. Not all of the 50 are considered greats
    Ronan O’Gara (130) may always be remembered best for losing the second Lions-Boks test singlehandedly, playing roadkill for Jaque Fourie’s magical try and giving Morne Steyn the chance to win it at the death with his silly kick-and-foul charge. Mauro Bergamesco (106) was the worst scrumhalf in Test history. Ross Ford may have amassed the quietest 111 caps ever. Adam Jones might have been the least fit professional athlete in our sport.

    8. But all 50 are amazing and worthy of praise
    Anyone who has played 100 games of rugby at any level is fully aware of the G-forces, the whiplash, the bent knees, the fingers snapped, the concussions and the difficulty of maintaining form. At Test level the mental stresses are exponential.

    (Photo: AFP)

    Take a bow: Rugby’s 50 centurions
    1. Richie McCaw (148)
    2. Brian O’Driscoll (141)
    3. George Gregan (139)
    4. Gethin Jenkins (134)
    5. Keven Mealamu (132)
    6. Ronan O’Gara (130)
    7. Stephen Moore and Sergio Parisse* (128)
    9. Victor Matfield (127)
    10. Bryan Habana (124)
    11. Alun-Wyn Jones* (120)
    12. Martin Castrogiovanni and Jason Leonard (119)
    14. Fabien Palous and Tony Woodcock (118)
    16. Adam Ashley-Cooper and Nathan Sharpe (116)
    18. Paul O’Conner (115)
    19. Marco Bartolami and Dan Carter (112)
    21. Ross Ford, Philippe Sella, John Smit, and George Smith (111)
    25. Stephen Jones (110)
    26. Jean de Villiers, Chris Paterson, and Kieran Read* (109)
    29. John Hayes and Merab Kvirikashvili (107)
    31. Mauro Bergamasco (106)
    32. Rory Best*, Sean Lamont, and Florin Vlaicu (105)
    35. Davit Kachavava and Martyn Williams (104)
    37. Matt Giteau, Andrea Lo Cicero Vaina, Ma’a Nonu, and Garett Thomas (103)
    41. Stephen Larkham and Percy Montgomery (102)
    43. David Campese, Allessandro Troncan, and Vasco Uva (101)
    46. Jamie Heaslip*, Adam Jones, and Mils Muliaina (100)
    49. Tendai Mtawarira*
    50 Sam Whitelock*

    * Still gaining caps