The rugby centurions: A pseudoscientific analysis

Harry Jones Roar Guru

By Harry Jones, Harry Jones is a 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

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    The Crowd Says (37)

    • November 26th 2017 @ 2:27am
      Highlander said | November 26th 2017 @ 2:27am | ! Report

      Special note to Parisse who is closing in on 100 losses, that takes some heart to keep coming back

      • November 26th 2017 @ 4:17pm
        Cuw said | November 26th 2017 @ 4:17pm | ! Report

        and still be among the top 3 Eights in the world.

        • Roar Guru

          November 27th 2017 @ 5:43am
          Harry Jones said | November 27th 2017 @ 5:43am | ! Report

          Good points.

          He was a one-man band vs Boks.

          • Roar Guru

            November 28th 2017 @ 1:01pm
            Carlos the Argie said | November 28th 2017 @ 1:01pm | ! Report

            And he couldn’t make it in the Pumas so he left for Italy, to the Pumas’ loss. Same with Castrogiovanni.

    • November 26th 2017 @ 2:31am
      riddler said | November 26th 2017 @ 2:31am | ! Report

      remember when poido got to 50 caps and we thought that was amazing longevity..

      which is was when you consider it was an average of 5/6 tests per year..

      • November 26th 2017 @ 2:30pm
        sheek said | November 26th 2017 @ 2:30pm | ! Report

        The great Tommy Lawton snr took 13 seasons(1920-32) to accumulate just 14 tests.

        Of course, part of the reason for the low turnout is he took many self-imposed sabbaticals. But had he made himself available for everything, he would have passed 30 tests.

        Which is still ordinary by today’s standard. Today, a guy can rack up 14 tests in one lousy season.

        It’s kinda funny how you compare one player’s output at over 100 tests to another’s output from just say 25 tests & you think to yourself, “yeah, I reckon the 25-test guy was better”.

        • Roar Guru

          November 27th 2017 @ 5:44am
          Harry Jones said | November 27th 2017 @ 5:44am | ! Report

          Yes, Sheek, imagine how many caps Ned Hanigan will have in a few years, and then compare him to Jan Ellis…

      • November 26th 2017 @ 4:42pm
        Cuw said | November 26th 2017 @ 4:42pm | ! Report

        @ Harry Jones,

        it will be interesting to know how many tests these guys have missed from the day made their debut.

        someone like say Mccaw and Whitelock seem to play most matches.

        someone like say Nonu i recall was dropped for a period.

        • Roar Guru

          November 27th 2017 @ 5:46am
          Harry Jones said | November 27th 2017 @ 5:46am | ! Report

          Good question, cuw.

          Notice also how the great teams (07-09 Boks, 2010-2015 ABs) had multiple centurions (McCaw-Carter-Nonu-Mils-Read-Mealamu or Matfield-Smit-Habana-JdV) spanning the years together …

          • November 27th 2017 @ 3:59pm
            Cuw said | November 27th 2017 @ 3:59pm | ! Report

            i guess it is the case in any game – experience matters.

            i remember the World cup winning Sri Lanka cricket team – lots of experience Arjuna Ranathunga , Aravinda DeSilva, Gurusinghe, Tillakarathne, Jayasuriya, Mahanama, Dharmasena, Kaluwitharana, Wickremasinghe…

            or the Chicago Bulls – like Mike Jordan , Scottie Pippen , Dennis Rodman , Tony Kucoch , Randy Brown , Ron Harper ….

    • Roar Rookie

      November 26th 2017 @ 4:29am
      atlas said | November 26th 2017 @ 4:29am | ! Report

      Giorgi Chkhaidze, Georgia, joined the 100 Club overnight, playing in Georgia’s 21-20 win over USA

      Portugal’s Vasco Uva in there on 101 – his brother Goncalo is on 98, both still playing

      • November 26th 2017 @ 4:26pm
        Cuw said | November 26th 2017 @ 4:26pm | ! Report

        Those still playing and in the 90s club are

        Alessandro Zanni (Italy) 99

        Tendai Mtawarira (South Africa) 98

        Hitoshi Ono (Japan) 98

        Jamie Roberts (Wales) 97

        Sam Whitelock (NZ) 96

        Owen Franks (NZ) 95

        Sekope Kepu (Australia) 91

        • Roar Guru

          November 27th 2017 @ 5:47am
          Harry Jones said | November 27th 2017 @ 5:47am | ! Report

          I might have put the hex on Beast. He limped off vs Italy. Didn’t look good.

          • November 27th 2017 @ 7:43am
            Bakkies said | November 27th 2017 @ 7:43am | ! Report

            I doubt he will end up like Peter Stringer stuck on 98 caps. He is finishing soon at the age of 40

    • Roar Guru

      November 26th 2017 @ 4:38am
      Kia Kaha said | November 26th 2017 @ 4:38am | ! Report

      Good stuff, Harry. But how many centurions spanned two millennia?

      • November 26th 2017 @ 4:37pm
        Cuw said | November 26th 2017 @ 4:37pm | ! Report

        BOD 1999 – 2014

        Gregan 1994 – 2007

        Leonard 1990 – 2004

        Pelous 1995 – 2007

        Sella 1982 – 1995

        Jones 1998 – 2011

        Patterson 199 – 2011

        Bergamasco 1998 – 2015

        Williams 1996 – 2012

        Thomas 1995 – 2007

        Larkham 1996 – 2007

        Montgomery 1997 – 2008

        Campese 1982 – 1996

        Troncon 1994 – 2007

        Raphaël Ibañez (98) 1996–2007

        Jonny Wilkinson (97) 1998–2011

        Colin Charvis (96) 1996–2007

        Andrea Masi (95) 1999–2015

        Serge Blanco (93) 1980–1991

        Sean Fitzpatrick (92) 1986–1997

        Martin Johnson (92) 1993–2003

        Gareth Llewellyn (92) 1989–2005

        Malcolm O’Kelly (92) 1997–2009

        Neil Jenkins (91) 1990–2003

        Rory Underwood (91) 1984–1996

    • November 26th 2017 @ 5:23am
      aussikiwi said | November 26th 2017 @ 5:23am | ! Report

      And how many stayes longer than rhwy should? Gregan and Moore immediately spring ro mind.

    • November 26th 2017 @ 6:07am
      aussikiwi said | November 26th 2017 @ 6:07am | ! Report

      And how many stayed longer than they should? Gregan and Moore immediately spring to mind.

      • November 26th 2017 @ 8:25am
        Bakkies said | November 26th 2017 @ 8:25am | ! Report

        Given that Burgess and Henjak were in line to replace Gregan no he didn’t. The SMH did their best to get Whitaker in however he eventually left to go to Leinster

      • Roar Guru

        November 27th 2017 @ 5:49am
        Harry Jones said | November 27th 2017 @ 5:49am | ! Report

        Moore probably did; maybe also JdV, because he got the mess knocked out of him the last season…

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