Ranking the 6 Best Hookers in Rugby History
The hooker: The tip of the spear of any successful pack.
The man brave or mad enough to surrender himself to the support of the two hulking slabs of beef either side of him, whose job it is to keep his scrum up while he swings at the ball.
He’s then got to reinsert his shoulders to their sockets and throw the ball in at the line-out with dead-eyed accuracy and, while he’s at it, rampage all over the park as an extra attacking weapon.
Plenty have passed into rugby legend from the No. 2 shirt; these are my top six.
6. Phil Kearns, Australia
As a mobile forward back in the days of amateurism, Kearns was well-placed for the arrival of the fitter era for front rowers, and he used it to his advantage.
The man from New South Wales was part of the 1991 World Cup-winning Wallaby pack and was still there in 1999 when the green and gold claimed a second Webb Ellis Cup.
Fearless, capable and hugely talented both at set piece and around the field, he is one of those players from professionalism's early days who would still fit into the modern game.
5. Mario Ledesma, Argentina
One of the key figures in the greatest Pumas side in history, Ledesma was the leader of a pack that barged its way to third place in the 2007 World Cup.
The opening night of that tournament provided a rare shock when Argentina defeated their French hosts, and Ledesma’s efforts at the forefront of that aggressive forward pack were key.
His career spanned three World Cups, and he won the 2010 Top 14 championship with Clermont Auvergne.
When he departed the field against the All Blacks during the 2011 World Cup, he was in tears, and the world of rugby was bidding farewell to one of the toughest, most talented hookers to have graced the game.
4. Brian Moore, England
The Pitbull was the standard bearer for the grim-faced, belligerent English pack of the 1990s and won five Lions Test caps, bearing that toothless snarl at opponents and officials alike.
As relentless in his physicality as he was in his gamesmanship, he successfully reduced the French front row to tears of frustration in 1992 before two of them boiled over and received their marching orders.
But Moore was much more than an exponent of the verbal arts.
His technical work at the scrum was among the world’s best—it had to be as he stood just 5', 7" tall—and his ability to run and handle like a three-quarter marked him out as one of the more mobile No. 2s of his era.
He has successfully transferred all that snarl and bite from the pitch to his role today as columnist and broadcaster. Fair to say you won't find him sitting on the fence very often.
3. John Smit, South Africa
Smit was the figurehead for the Springboks for what felt like an eternity, and yet it seemed the one place he found admiration hardest to come by was in his own country.
Calls for Smit to be replaced by more powerful, dynamic types were made more than once, but what the doubters missed that his coaches knew well was that in Smit they had a man who could lead a team like no other.
In dire circumstances, like the barrage from Fiji that threatened to tip the Boks out of the 2007 World Cup quarterfinal, or the late stages of the second test with the British and Irish Lions in 2009, Smit could organise and galvanise his troops and pull them out of the fire.
His leadership qualities were underlined by the decision, when he was no longer the best hooker, to keep him in the side by a move to tight-head prop.
2. Keith Wood, Ireland
The Raging Potato, Uncle Fester. Call him what you like, Wood was a force of nature on the field.
His ball-carrying ability made him the best running hooker in the world, and when he was at his peak, he had the ability to pull the rest of the team with him.
No one personified Ireland’s frenetic energy of the '90s and early 2000s better than Keith Wood, and his nose for the try-line was second to none.
A winning Lion in 1997 and one of the talisman for that heady first test against Australia in 2001, Wood retired without the Six Nations Championship his quality deserved, but his place among the greatest was cemented.
1. Sean Fitzpatrick, New Zealand
For a player who went on to become one of the greatest of all time, Fitzpatrick’s international career took flight almost by accident.
Injury to Andy Dalton before the 1987 World Cup gave the Auckland man his chance, and he took it, retaining his place even when the skipper was fit again.
During his 92 caps, Fitzpatrick married monstrous physicality with slick hands and an unrivalled ability to converse with referees and his opponents.
A born leader, master tactician and the most capped All Black captain in history upon his retirement, he should have led the All Blacks to more than one World Cup title.