November 11, 2010
South Africa's Victor Matfield will become his country's most capped player against Wales this weekend © Getty Images
Martin Johnson Gareth Llewellyn Victor Matfield Scott Murray Malcolm O'Kelly Fabien Pelous Nathan Sharpe
A modern master of the game, Springboks stalwart Victor Matfield will become his country's most-capped player against Wales on Saturday and to mark the occasion we celebrate a generation of second-row giants in our latest Scrum Seven.
Fabien Pelous (France, 1995-2007, 118 Test caps)
Pelous sets the standard when it comes to second-row longevity, having been a rock for Les Bleus throughout a 12-year international career that incorporated 118 Test caps - 42 as captain. His undoubted talents graced a Rugby World Cup Final stage in 1999 and featured in three victorious Six Nations campaigns while his his domestic honours with his home-town club Toulouse include two Heineken Cups and two Top 14 titles. His Test cap tally is only bettered by former Wallabies scrum-half George Gregan and ex-England prop Jason Leonard - but we know who our money is on should they arm-wrestle for bragging rights.
Victor Matfield (South Africa, 2001-present, 102 Test caps)
Matfield boasts arguably the most impressive CV of his second-row contemporaries. The 33-year-old may already have 102 Test appearances to his name but shows no signs of slowing down as the Springboks build towards the defence of their Rugby World Cup crown. Matfield was a pivotal player in the Boks' march to the Webb Ellis Cup in France - a supreme technician who has been ably supported for much of his career by his 'blood brother' - the enforcer Bakkies Botha. An influential leader both on and off the pitch, his consistency has helped propel the Blue Bulls to Currie Cup glory, the Bulls to Super Rugby glory and the Boks to world domination. The coming year is set to be something of a farewell tour for a true giant of the modern game - make the most of it.
Martin Johnson (England, 1993-2003, 92 Test caps)
Johnno's place in England's sporting history was assured the day he lifted the sport's biggest prize in 2003 but that triumph was merely the final act in a majestic career. Like his contemporaries Pelous and Matfield he could not be accused of saving his best for the international stage - Premiership titles and Heineken Cup victories with Leicester sit alongside Grand Slams on his CV. It was thought his decision to take the England management reins without any coaching experience would backfire at the expense of a reputation forged the hard way on rugby's frontline but you some how sense the granite-like Johnson will eventually emerge unscathed and maybe even enhanced.
Gareth Llewellyn (Wales, 1989-2004, 92 Test caps)
The age-defying lock boasts the longest international career of our selection having been part of the Welsh rugby as long as Land of my Fathers. He achieved the notable feat of playing international rugby in three different decades and under eight different national coaches. A key component of the Welsh pack for many years he also led his country on seven occasions and is also one of the handful of Welsh players to have represented Wales at the National Stadium, Wembley and the Millennium Stadium.
Malcolm O'Kelly (Ireland, 1997-2010, 92 Test caps)
Arguably the bedrock of the Irish pack throughout a glittering international career, he was another to appear at three World Cups - in Wales in 1999, Australia in 2003 and France in 2007. He also toured Australia with the British & Irish Lions in 2001 and only injury prevented another stint in the famous red jersey four years later. A Masters degree in Mathematics and a dedication to the technical aspects of his game suggests he had the brain to go with the obvious brawn that Ireland and Leinster used to great effect to the tune of a Six Nations Grand Slam, four Triple Crowns, a Heineken Cup win and Magners League glory.
Nathan Sharpe (Australia, 2002-present, 90 Test caps)
The Wagga Wagga-born Sharpe has been a Wallabies regular since emerging onto the international stage in 2002. He zoomed past the 50-cap mark during 2006 with a remarkable sequence of Test appearances that defied the demands of the modern game: when he was rested for the Test against Fiji in Perth in June 2007 it ended a run of 28 consecutive matches for the Wallabies since 2005. Another to have been entrusted with his country's captaincy, a 2008 demotion proved to be the stimulation he needed to revive his career and he has since found a new lease of life and eclipsed Wallabies legend John Eales as his country's most-capped second-row. A century is in his sights.
Scott Murray (Scotland, 1997-2007, 87 Test caps)
Scotland's most-capped forward, Murray has also graced three Rugby World Cups and led his country but can also lay claim to being one of only two Scots to have been sent off following his red card against Wales in 2006. Scotland's player of the season three times, he also toured with the British & Irish Lions in 2001 while his club career has seen him ply his trade across Europe for the likes of Edinburgh, Bedford, Saracens, Montauban and Castres.
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
Ireland have the world sitting up and taking notice - and rugby's structure in Europe will aid their Rugby World Cup bid, writes John Mitchell
Where does Italy's win over Scotland rank among their successes in the Six Nations? Scrum Sevens investigates
The tone was set early on in Dublin as a more clinical Ireland made England pay. All is not lost, however, argues Phil Vickery
Monday Maul takes in retirement talk, England reshuffles, France's unfair advantage and Scotland's communication breakdown