The Guinness Six Nations Championship, enriched with history and tradition, has witnessed some of rugby’s most exceptional talents. Among them, the role of the hooker has been pivotal in shaping the dynamics of the game. Over the past two decades, since Italy’s inclusion, the Championship has seen a plethora of hookers who have not only mastered the art of scrummaging but also left an indelible mark through leadership, resilience, and iconic moments. Here, we pay homage to the great hookers of the Six Nations era, who have displayed their prowess in the most shocking rugby tackles, under the guidance of the highest paid head coaches, and contributed to the best Rugby World Cup tries ever.
10. Rory Best (Ireland)
Rory Best’s career, spanning over 15 years, is marked by exceptional leadership and consistent performance. As one of the two Irish players to have been part of both Grand Slams of the 21st century, Best’s 124 caps reflect his durability and skill. His leadership under Joe Schmidt was crucial, transforming Ireland into one of the best rugby national teams in the world.
9. Gordon Bulloch (Scotland)
Scotland’s Gordon Bulloch, a key figure in the early 2000s, epitomizes commitment and skill. With 75 caps, his leadership in the 2005 Championship and his role as a two-time British & Irish Lion highlight his significant impact on Scottish rugby. Bulloch’s career, marked by resilience and skill, set a high standard for Scottish hookers.
8. Ross Ford (Scotland)
Ross Ford, surpassing Bulloch’s cap record, is a testament to longevity and consistency. His 110 appearances for Scotland and contributions as a British & Irish Lion underscore his status as a Scottish rugby icon. Ford’s career, marked by tenacity and skill, has left an enduring legacy in the Scottish front row.
7. Leonardo Ghiraldini (Italy)
Leonardo Ghiraldini stands as a pillar of Italian rugby, showcasing resilience and leadership. His comeback from a torn ACL and contributions to Italy’s historic wins in the Championship exemplify his fighting spirit. Ghiraldini’s career, marked by determination and skill, has been instrumental in elevating Italian rugby.
6. Guilhem Guirado (France)
Guirado’s journey from a young prospect to a seasoned leader for France mirrors his dedication and growth. With 74 caps, his transformation from a bench player to a starting hooker and captain reflects his resilience and adaptability. Guirado’s career has been a blend of leadership, skill, and commitment to French rugby.
5. Dylan Hartley (England)
Dylan Hartley’s career, marked by ups and downs, is a story of redemption and leadership. His role in leading England to Grand Slam glory in 2016 and his contributions to the 2011 and 2017 Championship victories reflect his importance. Hartley’s journey, marked by resilience and skill, has left a significant impact on English rugby.
4. Richard Hibbard (Wales)
Richard Hibbard’s relatively short but impactful Championship career is marked by aggression and dynamism. His contributions to Wales’ Grand Slam victory in 2012 and subsequent Championship success highlight his importance. Hibbard’s career, characterized by ferocity and skill, has added to the legacy of Welsh hookers.
3. Raphael Ibanez (France)
Raphael Ibanez’s storied career, transitioning from player to team manager, reflects his deep connection with French rugby. His leadership during France’s Grand Slam victories and his return from retirement to lead once more demonstrate his enduring influence. Ibanez’s career, marked by resilience and strategic acumen, has been pivotal in French rugby history.
2. Ken Owens (Wales)
Ken Owens, the only current player on this list, epitomizes the modern hooker with his dynamic play and leadership. His role in Wales’ recent Grand Slam victory and his evolution from a bench player to a starter highlight his growth and importance. Owens’ career, marked by versatility and skill, continues to shape Welsh rugby.
1. William Servat (France)
William Servat’s journey from player to forwards coach mirrors his deep understanding and commitment to the game. His role in France’s 2010 Grand Slam and his resilience in overcoming injuries reflect his character and skill. Servat’s career, characterized by tactical acumen and leadership, has left a lasting imprint on French rugby.
Bonus Mention: Steve Thompson (England)
Steve Thompson’s career, spanning the early 2000s, is marked by power and agility. As a key player in England’s 2003 World Cup win and subsequent Championship successes, Thompson’s dynamic play redefined the role of a hooker. His career, characterized by brute strength and skill, has had a lasting impact on English rugby.
Bonus Mention: Keith Wood (Ireland)
Keith Wood’s career, though partially outside the Six Nations era, is too impactful to overlook. His role in Ireland’s rise as a global rugby force and his record as the top try-scoring hooker reflect his exceptional talent. Wood’s career, characterized by versatility and aggression, has influenced generations of Irish hookers.
Conclusion: The Enduring Legacy of the Six Nations’ Greatest Hookers
The Great Hookers of the Six Nations Era have not only excelled in their primary roles but have also been pivotal in shaping the outcomes of international rugby rivalries and leading their teams under some of the best rugby captains and highest-paid head coaches. Their contributions extend beyond the scrum, influencing the game through leadership, resilience, and memorable performances. As we look forward to the best rugby national teams in the world in 2024, the legacy of these hookers continues to inspire and set a benchmark for excellence in rugby. Their stories of triumph, endurance, and skill are a testament to the vital role hookers play in the beautiful game of rugby.