Rugby's centurions continue to stand tall
Martyn Williams, the Welsh openside flanker who has represented his country for 16 years, will be brought back into the Wales side to face the Barbarians at the Millennium Stadium on 2 June.
However, what would seem a routine recall to cover some injury-enforced absences actually has far more significance. Fitness permitting, when Williams crosses the line for Wales, he will become only the 21st player reach a century of appearances for his country.
Although it is an extremely illustrious club that Williams – who has also played four Tests for the British & Irish Lions – will be joining, it is one that is expanding all the time.
In 1994, France legend Philippe Sella became the first player to reach his century of caps, but as recently as the start of 2010 there were still only 10 men who had made it to 100 appearances for their country.
However, as a result of the Game’s development and expansion of the international calendar, there has been a sudden rush of players reaching the landmark in the last two years – and there should be some more famous names joining them shortly.
Swelling the numbers
During the 2010 Six Nations, there were three legends of northern hemisphere rugby who reached the magical three figures. Chris Paterson, one of the great goal-kickers and most versatile backs, became the first and only Scotsman to hit 100, while in Ireland they were spoilt for choice during the same competition.
John Hayes, the cult hero of the Irish front row, was quickly followed into the ‘100 Club’ by possibly the greatest Irish player of them all, Brian O’Driscoll. ‘BOD’ currently on 123 caps – including six for the Lions – and will no doubt have George Gregan’s overall record of 139 Tests for the Wallabies in his sights before he retires.
In August 2010, it was the turn of South Africa to have a double celebration, as John Smit and then Victor Matfield – the brains and the engine behind the Springbok pack for so long – achieved their 100th caps within days of one another.
A few months later, in November 2010, yet another Irishman reached the milestone when Ronan O’Gara came off the bench against South Africa. He was soon joined by another veteran fly half, Wales No.10 Stephen Jones, after his appearance against the Barbarians in June 2011.
The three most recent additions to the ‘100 Club’ came during Rugby World Cup 2011. The biggest fanfare was reserved for New Zealand captain Richie McCaw, who became the first All Black to play 100 Tests in their pool victory over France.
Mils Muliaina quickly followed, but his 100th Test sadly ended in injury, ruling him out of the rest of the tournament. Nathan Sharpe’s century was a happier occasion with the Wallabies beating Wales in the Bronze Final.
Forwards lead the way
Rugby’s other male centurions are: Jason Leonard (England), Fabien Pelous (France), George Smith (Australia), Gareth Thomas (Wales), Percy Montgomery (South Africa), Stephen Larkham (Australia), Alessandro Troncon (Italy) and David Campese (Australia).
The Women’s Game is also not without its centurions, England hooker Amy Garnett having joined Scotland stalwart Donna Kennedy and Louise Rickard of Wales with her 100th appearance for her country in the Nations Cup last year.
But who will be the next few men to make it to 100 international appearances?
There is another wave of players all on a similar number of caps who find themselves in a dash to the century over the next 12 months.
In Italy, there is a straight race between Andrea Lo Cicero (95 caps) and Marco Bortolami (93) to be the second member of the Azzurri to reach 100. Their teammates Sergio Parisse (88) and brothers Mauro and Mirco Bergamasco (89 and 87 respectively) are not far behind.
Romanian second row Cristian Petre sits on 90 caps, while Gethin Jenkins has played 87 Tests for Wales – plus five for the Lions – and, at 31 years old, is still young enough to play considerably more.
Meanwhile, in the southern hemisphere Keven Mealamu (92) will be hoping to maintain his place at the heart of the New Zealand front row for long enough to join McCaw and Muliaina as All Black centurions.
Let the race to 100 begin.
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