Ranking the 6 Best Props in Rugby History

Danny CoyleFeatured ColumnistSeptember 26, 2013

Ranking the 6 Best Props in Rugby History

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    The men of the front row are often overlooked when it comes to the headlines and glittering prizes, but the prop forwards are the unsung heroes of any successful team.

    Over the years they have evolved from blubbery piano shifters with little else to do other than scrummage, to monstrous specimens who combine raw power in the set piece with ferocious defensive work and all-round athleticism.

    Here are six who brought a combination of strength, guile and a bit of devil to the art of prop play to make my six best of all time.

6. Richard Loe (NZL)

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    When you earn a reputation as an enforcer among an All Black pack housing the likes of Sean Fitzpatrick and Wayne Shelford, you’re a man not to be messed with.

    Richard Loe was part of the 1987 World Cup winning squad with New Zealand and played in the following two tournaments.

    He earned a reputation as a thug in some quarters, but 49 All Black caps underline his importance to a New Zealand side in which he played in the next two World Cups.

    Hewn from the land he worked, Loe was an immovable lump of granite of the highest order, whether you liked the rough stuff that came with him or not.

5. Tom Smith (Sco)

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    One for the little guys out there. Life is hard enough in the front row, but it becomes a great deal harder when you’re smaller and lighter than the vast majority of your opponents.

    Unless your name is Tom Smith.

    Smith won six consecutive Test caps for the Lions alongside 67 Scotland appearances that cement him in the front row pantheon. At 5’10’’ and weighing less than 17 stones, he was smaller than almost every prop he faced, but his strength and technique saw him win battles many tipped him to lose.

    Alongside strong defensive work and rock solid scrummaging, Smith could handle with panache, adapting from Scottish grind to free-flowing Lions rugby with ease.

4. Armand Vaquerin (Fra)

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    A life that ended tragically is still remembered best for the fearsome, brutal way this monster of French rugby played the game.

    The moustachioed Vaquerin was ever present in the Beziers team which claimed 10 league titles between 1971 and 1984, and was the torch bearer for the notorious French front row of the 1970s.

    As recalled by Wales' legendary hooker Bobby Windsor, there was barely a match against France that didn’t end with the Welshman’s nose splattered all over his face. In the rugby heartland of Beziers, Vaquerin is far more revered than the silky three-quarters who made the French style so famous.

    His life ended bizarrely in his own bar in 1993 when a wine-fuelled game of Russian Roulette went horribly wrong.

3. Os Du Randt (SA)

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    A behemoth of a man for a front-row forward, Du Randt combined raw scrummaging power with athleticism in the loose in his early days.

    Famed more in the Northern Hemisphere for the moment on the 1997 Lions tour when he was run over by Scott Gibbs—a rare blot on the copy book of the man they called the "Ox"—who bookended his glittering career with 1995 and 2007 World Cup winner’s medals.

    He even retired in the early 2000s only to be coaxed back to the international scene in 2004 by Jake White.

2. Graham Price (Wal)

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    Price formed one third of the feared Pontypool front row known as the Viet Gwent, alongside hooker Bobby Windsor and loose head Charlie Faulkner.

    Price had a fearsome reputation as a scrummager who never took a backward step. This clip of his stunning try against France in 1975 shows he had a turn of pace able to scare the living daylights out of three quarters.

    Price was the bedrock of the great Welsh pack of the 1970s and remains the most capped Welsh Lion in history with 12 test starts across three tours in 1977, 1980 and 1983.

1. Jason Leonard (Eng)

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    The most capped prop in international rugby with 119 appearances.

    Leonard, who battled back from neck surgery, not only displayed unfathomable longevity in the most physically ravaging position on the field, but did so in a career that required him to adapt from amateur, beer-swilling part-timer to professional sportsman.

    Leonard went on three Lions tours and topped off his England days with the 2003 World Cup final triumph, during which he came off the bench to steady front-row relations with an increasingly whistle-happy Andre Watson who was reffing the dominant English scrum out of the match.

    Although beginning life as a loose head, Leonard was at home in the No.3 shirt as well.