They are the tall ones, the tough ones, the joysticks at the back of the scrums and for the most part, the toughest back-rowers ever to step onto a playing field. Their stare is almost always menacing, even when it is meant to be jovial. Their smiles are often masks for the inherent toughness that begs to be unleashed at every game. They are the Number 8s and we take a look at eight of the most superior specimens to ever grace the game.
- Louis Picamoles: His marauding style of play makes him one to watch especially coming off the back of the scrum. At 116 kg, he is a battering ram of French Rugby, leading the drive, quick and brutal on his defensive tackles. Having played across the channel for a stint at Northampton Saints, Picamoles is now back at Montpellier Herault RC.
- James Heaslip: Having been capped 95 times for Ireland, James Heaslip was a star in the 2004 U-21 World Cup and his Rugby career went from good to great. A stalwart of Leinster Rugby and THE Irish number 8 since 2005, Heaslip was the first Irish player to be sent off in the professional era for a knee against Richie McCaw in 2010. At only 34, Heaslip was forced to retire from Rugby due to injury in early 2018.
- Duane Vermeulen: This heavyweight of Springbok Rugby is surprisingly agile and can pass as good as any back. Now playing in Japan, Vermeulen has plied his trade at Toulon as well as the Pumas and the Stormers in Super Rugby along with 45 appearances for the Boks.
- Billy Vunipola: A powerhouse of English Rugby, Billy was born in Sydney, Australia to Tongan parents, but moved to Wales as a child. Playing professionally for Wasps from 2011 to 2013, Billy moved to Saracens and has been capped 36 times for England. An aggressive number 8, he is always keen to get in the mix of things, scoring a try in his debut international against Argentina in England’s 2013 tour and scoring a hat-trick in an uncapped appearance earlier in the tour against Consur XVs.
- Sergio Parisse: One of the finest number 8s to ever grace the field, Parisse has inspired Italian Rugby through his gritty play as much as his excellent footballing skills. Nicknamed “the Gladiator”, he catches high balls and makes carries like no other. He passes brilliantly and tackles like a dump truck, jackals at breakdowns and sidesteps like a back.
- Kieran Read: Current All Black Captain Kieran Read has the skills on the field and inspires off it. He is the quintessential All Black, humble and cheerful but deadly in his Rugby skillset. Continuous struggles with a wrist injury has not prevented him from displaying great Rugby for both Crusaders and the All Blacks, having played 133 and 116 times respectively for each team.
- Buck Shelford: Another All Black Captain makes the list in the form of Wayne “Buck” Shelford. He revitalized the “Ka Mate” haka and re-inspired a new generation of players in New Zealand to appreciate the Maori culture. He is the stuff of legend having sustained a ghastly injury to his scrotum, having it attended to and continuing to play soon after. With only 20 caps for the All Blacks, this iconic number 8 deserves the continuous accolades and “Bring Back Buck” signs still prevalent at Rugby events everywhere.
- Zinzan Brooke: Zinzan tops the list due to his running and kicking skills. Who can forget the 1995 Rugby World Cup 48-meter drop goal against England? An aggressive runner, Brooke was the magic that connected Rugby’s amateur with its professional era. His style of play broke down barriers and inspired forwards to kick and pass better, backs to get tenacious and more aggressive and generally encouraged players to extend their skillset beyond expectation.
- David Pocock: Australian Rugby has had its share of ups and downs in recent years but David Pocock is always class. Although he plays more on the flank nowadays, Pocock has had many great games in the 8 jersey.
- Michael Jones: Often described as the “Perfect Rugby Player”, Jones – of strong Christian faith – once replied to the question of how he justified tackling, with a quote from the Bible saying “it is better to give than to receive”.
- Imanol Harinordoquy: With 82 appearances for Les Bleus, he once described playing against the English as “extremely unpleasant… so chauvinistic and arrogant…”
- Dean Richards: This English number 8 was part of the exceptional squad of the late 80’s and early 90’s. As a coach, he won four Premierships and two Heineken Cups with Leicester Tigers.