Fantasy Rugby: Most Capped XV

We at The Rugby Blog love a good stat. Well I do anyway. So imagine how beside myself I was when a friend emailed to say he had stumbled across a list of the players with 90 or more caps and was speculating as to whether you could make a proper 15 out of the 22 names. So that was an hour of an otherwise pretty dull day’s work taken care of.

Jason Leonard

The answer was ‘very nearly’. Sadly the list only contains 2 back-rowers but lurking just outside on 89 caps was Olivier Magne to step in. So in fact you can make a legitimate 15 out of the most capped 23 players. Unfortunately the lack of a replacement prop meant that we can’t field a full 22 but I’m pretty satisfied with the 15 below.

1. Jason Leonard (119 caps, Eng)
2. Rafael Ibanez (98, Fra)
3. John Hayes (90, Ire)
4. Fabien Pelous (118, Fra)
5. Martin Johnson (92, Eng)
6. Olivier Magne (89, Fra)
7. George Smith (95, Aus)
8. Colin Charvis (96, Wal)
9. George Gregan (138, Aus)
10. Stephen Larkham (102, Aus)
11. David Campese (101, Aus)
12. Phillipe Sella (111, Fra)
13. Brian O’Driscoll (92, Ire)
14. Gareth Thomas (103, Wal)
15. Percy Montgomery (102, SA)

Near misses:
Alessandro Troncon (101, Ita)
Serge Blanco (93, Fra)
Sean Fitzpatrick (92, NZ)
Gareth Llewellyn (92, Wal)
Neil Jenkins (91, Wal)
Rory Underwood (91, Eng)
Malcolm O’Kelly (91, Ire)
Chris Paterson (90, Sco)

The team itself is selected purely on caps won, and with a combined total of 1,546 caps, it’s pretty hard to argue with. In instances where there was a tie in a certain position, I selected on merit. In fact there was only one instance of this and it would take a pretty jingoistic Welshman to argue that Gareth Llewellyn should edge out Johnno. And good luck telling Johnno about it.

Were it to be picked on merit there may have been a few rejigs. I was pretty keen to find a spot for Serge Blanco. This is not only because he was a tremendous player, but because I feel he needs recognition for dedicating himself so heartily to the hospitality scene that he has become almost completely spherical since his retirement. I was tempted to make room by shifting either Thomas or Montgomery to 13 but decided to keep it as fair as possible (and Monty was a pretty ropey 13).

There are other positions where I would give the stand-bys the nod over the incumbents were it a meritocracy. The great Fitzy for Ibanez, Rory Underwood for Gareth Thomas, Neil Jenkins for Stephen Larkham (only kidding). And anyone for John Hayes (90 caps?).

The table does throw up some interesting statistics though. Gregan is so far ahead that he deserves plenty of plaudits but I think the most recognition must be reserved for the fun bus, Mr Jason Leonard. For a prop who had a career-threatening neck injury in his early 20s to have accumulated a third again more caps than anyone else in his position is quite remarkable.

Fabien Pelous stands head and shoulders above all of his second row rivals as well. And bizarrely there is only one All Black in the list (and none in the team), emphasising the old adage that you never have the All Black shirt, you only borrow it.

It illustrates also the increase in the number of fixtures demanded of the modern player. 15 of the 23 made their debuts in the 1990s and every single player bar George Smith and John Hayes (both of whom debuted in 2000) played during that decade. 5 of the players are still going strong in their international squads and it looks to be a race, fitness permitting, between O’Driscoll and Smith to be the next man to 3 figures. All being well, BO’D should get there in the 2nd Lions test next summer.

by Stuart Peel

9 thoughts on “Fantasy Rugby: Most Capped XV

  1. Cracking stat – great work. Echo the view that how the hell has John Hayes got 9 caps let alone 90?! And Larkham – through a combination of first playing for Aus what must be 2yrs ago, looking pre-pubescent, and being injured for 97.3% of the time – getting 102 caps? Certainly happens fast these days.

    Question: I think I’m right in saying the team England put out in the 2003 RWC Final was the most-capped team ever to take the field. Is this true, and if so has it ever been surpassed?

  2. I’d be interested in the answer to that as well. Also, can you tell us how many of Larkham’s caps were won against New Zealand? Wouldn’t take long to amass 100 caps if you play the same team 4 times in a year.

  3. That’s good maths, but I took into account the fact that they wouldn’t only be playing New Zealand…

    Throw in the odd drubbing of England and defeats to Wales and the caps start to add up.

  4. Larkham played 22 games against New Zealand and 23 against South Africa, Gregan 28 and 29 respectively.

    Think you’re right about England’s World Cup final team although not sure if it’s been overtaken. I’m on it…

  5. The standout stat for me is Sella – that’s a hell of a lot of caps for a man who never played his rugby in the professional era of 6 Nations instead of 5 and constant all-year-round rugby.

  6. I just want to point out to James that those English guys certainly rack up a few test matches playing the 6 nations, lions tours, autumn internationals its only fair that the aussies get a chance to play some decent competition.

    Most capped team of all time good shout!!

    Kiwis will never make it too many young great players coming through every year!!

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