Last of a dying breed?
January 19, 2012
Julian White is in the twilight of his career but is still one of the sport's most ferocious competitiors © Getty Images
Bakkies Botha Jamie Cudmore Thierry Dusautoir Mamuka Gorgodze Richie McCaw Brian O'Driscoll Julian White
Clermont Auvergne Crusaders England France Ireland Leicester Tigers Leinster Montpellier New Zealand South Africa Toulon Toulouse
Has the role of 'enforcer' been rendered obsolete in the modern game by a wave of ultra-conditioned athletes?
The past decade has seen 'hard men' such as Martin Johnson, Danny Grewcock and Schalk van der Merwe - the man who famously wrestled a lion to save a baboon - all retire and the debate is always raging as to who is the toughest man in the game today.
With this in mind, Scrum Sevens casts its eye across the world to find a host of fierce competitors all vying for that title. There is no fake tan, waxed legs or hiding behind a Twitter account in this illustrious list - these men do their talking on the pitch.
Botha is never far away from the referee's notebook and alongside Victor Matfield formed one of rugby's most intimidating second-row partnerships the game has ever seen for both the Springboks and the Bulls. The 32-year-old is currently turning out for Toulon in France alongside England's Simon Shaw - another man who is never found shirking a tackle.
He may have left South Africa, but there is no escaping his reputation as one of the sport's no-nonsense competitors. Botha was yellow carded on his Springboks debut and has since had high-profile run-ins with the back of Jimmy Cowan's head, British & Irish Lions Test prop Adam Jones and Gio Aplon.
One recent interviewer dared to probe into the formidable lock's chequered history. "When it came to the [Cowan] disciplinary hearing, the judge asked me how many times I had been cited in my life. I told the truth - once. He did not believe me, asked me if I had personal problems, if I hit my kids...It was ridiculous. People are wrong about me. I do not eat children."
Clermont Auvergne's Canadian lock spent an incredible 110 days on suspension during the 2010-11 season having been handed a 70-day ban for stamping on Sarries flanker Jacques Burger and a 40-day ban after being found guilty of punching Perpignan's Gregory Le Corvec. And he has already spent time on the sidelines this term after being involved in an altercation with Stade Francais scrum-half Jerome Fillol.
Boasting the not-so-fitting nickname of 'Cuddles,' Cudmore has also taken distaste to Paul O'Connell and Tim Payne in the past. But regardless of his 'bad boy' image, Cudmore is still hailed as leading light in the Top 14 and Canadian rugby and returned to the international stage for the first time in four years for the 2011 Rugby World Cup.
White will turn 39 in a few short months but is still turning out for Leicester Tigers in the Aviva Premiership and remains a ferocious scrummager. He has 51 caps to his name and has enjoyed 13 years in the top flight of English rugby having had spells with Saracens and Bristol before linking up with the Tigers where he has spent the last nine years. White gained a reputation as one of rugby's 'hard men' during his Bristol days when he was hit with a 10-week ban for a head-butt on fellow England front-row Graham Rowntree.
White's bouts of ill-discipline continued throughout his career with high profiles incidents with Malcolm O'Kelly and later a one-punch flooring of England colleague Andrew Sheridan. He has now found tranquillity in farming and owns 300-acres of land near the quaint village of Stoke Albany.
The All Blacks skipper led the Kiwis to World Cup glory with aplomb despite suffering with a foot injury throughout the tournament. McCaw suffered a stress fracture at the start of 2011 which kept him sidelined for the majority of the Crusaders' Super Rugby campaign and when the injury reared its ugly head during the World Cup he played through the pain barrier to ensure the hosts ended a 24-year drought.
Aurelien Rougerie allegedly did his best to take McCaw's mind off his foot woes during an intense final with video replays appearing to show him making contact with McCaw's eye - a charge the All Blacks' stalwart refused to be drawn on. That incident was just the latest of many to illustrate how McCaw, widely regarded as one of rugby's greatest ever players, has put his body on the line for club and country throughout his illustrious career.
The legendary Irish centre is currently out for the season with a shoulder injury and given his reputation for shrugging of all matter of blows before returning to the thick of the action, you know this one must be serious. He was also famously sidelined in 2005 as the result of a Tana Umaga and Keven Mealamu tip-tackle during the British & Irish Lions' tour to New Zealand which resulted in a dislocated shoulder and he very nearly missed the 2007 World Cup due to a broken cheekbone but he played through the pain barrier for the sake of his side.
O'Driscoll's all-action approach saw him sustain another notable injury when he met the challenge of the Springboks' Danie Rossouw head-on during the 2009 Lions' tour to South Africa. Regardless of the knocks and bruises he has sustained throughout his career, the Irish centre keeps on bouncing back to wow fans and pundits alike and while his body must be starting to feel the effects of years at the coal face, O'Driscoll is still revered by fans from all over the world.
While some of our 'hard-men' have earned their reputation for their brushes with the disciplinary officer and others for their Lazarus-like ability to recover from injury, Dusautoir's place on the pantheon comes due to selfless nature of always putting his body on the line for his country. Dusautoir was awarded the 2011 IRB Player of the Year days after the World Cup Final where he earned worldwide acclaim for his tenacity around the breakdown and heroic tackle rate.
It drew immediate comparisons to his side's infamous quarter-finale victory over the All Blacks at the 2007 World Cup where the Toulouse back-row experienced one of his finest hours - putting in an astonishing 38 tackles. It was also Dusautoir who led the infamous challenge to the Kiwis' Haka ahead of their recent Eden Park showdown. And while it is Dusautoir who gets the nod in our selection, a fellow Frenchman is unlucky to miss out.
The aptly named 'Gorgodzilla' is an absolute beast of a man who anchors the back of the Montpellier and Georgian scrum. Standing at 6'5 and weighing in at around 19 stone, Gorgodze took up basketball before switching to rugby. His rampaging runs with ball in hand coupled with his ability to clear out a breakdown single-handedly have earned him a reputation as one of the Top 14's best enforcers.
From an early age, Gorgodze was getting a reputation as a fearsome figure. John Daniell, in his award-winning book, Confessions of a Rugby Mercenary, recalls one encounter with Gorgodze in training. "He is Georgian, and although I say young this doesn't mean baby-faced. At 22 he is a great bear of a man, and seems to spend all his spare time in the weights room.
"His name is Mamuka Gorgodze and he is dubbed, inevitably, 'Gorgodzilla' - although if you value your life you don't say this to his face. During the pre-season mortal-combat sessions he ran around smashing people into the ground, both will ball in hand and with the kind of sledgehammer tackles that cave in ribcages."
© ESPN EMEA Ltd
Tom Hamilton is the Assistant Editor of ESPNscrum.
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