World Rugby has its Hall of Fame and officially
inducts international players to be named in honour and recognition of the
world’s top rugby players past and present and their achievements. World Rugby’s permanent hall of
fame museum is now in the birthplace of the sport, the city of Rugby in
Warwickshire, UK. So, it was fitting to induct the founder of the modern
version of rugby William Webb Ellis as its first member and Rugby School which
he attended in 1823. Every year there are induction ceremonies held around the
world and new Hall of Fame members are honoured. The World Rugby Hall of Fame
commenced in 2006 and since then has inducted 159 players whose careers and
influential contributions to rugby are considered significant and everlasting.
The first most famous and influential player has to be the founder of the modern game William Webb Ellis, the Rugby schoolboy who in 1823 chose to catch the football in his hands and run to the opposing team’s goal to try and score much to the amazement of everyone attending. There were indignant calls of foul play of course but he sparked the birth of rugby football and by his death in1872 rugby had grown more popular with new rules and a proper league of 25 clubs and the first ever international match of England versus Scotland. In his honour the Rugby World Cup is also called and known as The William Webb Ellis Cup and the French Rugby Federation maintain Reverend Webb Ellis’s burial site in le cimetière du vieux château in Menton, south of France where he died at the age of 63.
(photo thanks to teara.govt.nz)
Since the inception of the Rugby World Cup Tournament in 1987 it has been won by mainly southern hemisphere countries, New Zealand, Australia and S. Africa but in 2003 England won it against Australia with that famous drop kick goal just seconds from the end of extra time to become the first team north of the equator crowned world champions. The kicker was England’s talented fly-half, Jonny Wilkinson. That winning drop goal made him an instant hero and not only in rugby circles. He won Sports Personality of the Year and was voted Rugby World Cup International Player of the Year. He received a CBE honour award from the Queen for services to rugby, Jonny went on to play rugby for another successful 11 seasons before retiring as the most famous English rugby player for that world champion winning drop goal.
New Zealand have won the RWC three times and Richie McCaw captained the All Blacks back to back RWC wins in 2011 and 2015. He played 148 international games and was the captain for 110 of them. Referee Nigel Owens described Richie as the hardest and toughest player he has ever seen. Regarded as the world’s best Flanker and N.8 this mountain of a man 1.87m and 107Kg played for over 25 years and as a pro-player for 14 years which is an astounding feat as a flanker. He retired in 2015 and was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2019 as well as receiving his country’s highest honour of the Order of N. Zealand. Richie is of Scottish descent and is also a talented bagpipe player.
The whole world knows the prolific Jonah Lomu, the youngest All Black ever to step onto the field at 19 years old in 1994. Tragically taken from us too early at the mere age of 40, diagnosed in 1995 with a serious kidney condition which eventually triggered a fatal heart attack in 2015. His kidney disease forced him into early retirement and a later kidney transplant did revive his career for a short while. Jonah changed the role of a winger in rugby who, usually, were of a slender physique and fast, he weighed 120 kg, 1.96m tall and covering a 100m in 10.8 seconds made him an international unstoppable superstar, wherever he played the crowds flocked to see him humiliate teams with his power runs. Born to Tongan parents but grew up in Auckland Jonah Lomu was an incredible force on the rugby field, he won the RWC with the All Blacks in 1999 and honoured with the N. Zealand Order of Merit in 2007.
Although England was the first European team to win the RWC in 2003, Les Blues were the runners up in the first ever RWC competition in 1987, France lost to N. Zealand 29-9. The great Serge Blanco played that day and was the hero with his memorable try against Australia in extra time to reach the final with the All Blacks. Serge was born in Caracas, Venezuela, raised in Biarritz though and a French citizen from his mother’s side. An illustrious rugby career as a winger or full back spanning 16 years. They called him the Pele’ of rugby with his agile sidestepping high velocity runs. He represented France 93 times and was captain of national side too. Inducted into the Rugby Hall of Fame in 2011 and retired from rugby in 1991 after exiting the RWC that year. His only club was Biarritz Olympique and took over as President on retirement and is still there today. He won 2 Grand Slams with France in the then 5 Nations Tournament, 2 Ligue Nationale du Rugby in 2002 and 2006 with his beloved Biarritz team and President of the league itself until 2008. Serge has proven to be a successful businessman with his hotel chain and fashion sport clothing line and an old school chain-smoker, how incredible is that.
There are so many fantastic players of the noble sport of rugby that it requires further follow ups, so, part I ends here and part II is in the scrum and almost ready to exit and run the line.
Stay tuned and see you soon on Krakow Rugby Festival 2021