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Dylan Hartley and the Test rugby statistic that looks unfavourably on player welfare in England

By Liam Heagney
(Photo by David Rogers/The RFU Collection via Getty Images)

Dylan Hartley gave awareness to a curious international rugby fact during a recent interview promoting his new autobiography – why does England only have one Test cap centurion?  

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A dozen countries feature in the list of the world’s 50 most capped Test players. Australia and New Zealand lead the way with eight centurions each followed by Italy on seven players, with Wales, Ireland and South Africa next best on five players apiece. In sharp contrast, England check in twelfth and last, Jason Leonard their sole representative.

Amid concerns over the welfare of players playing in the Premiership during a 2019/20 resumption where teams are staging midweek matches, Hartley’s solution to the international level quirk is the RFU introduction of central contracts.

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However, this is something he just can’t see ever happening given the power wielded by clubs in England compared to other rival countries.  

Asked by The Guardian if player welfare can ever improve, the 97-capped Hartley replied: “Certainly not in England. I can’t see it getting better. How many players play 100 Tests for England? One at the moment. Jason Leonard. 

“I got close. Ben Youngs is right there (on 99 caps). Look at New Zealand, Australia, South Africa, Ireland. Even the Welsh players. Because they’re managed a lot better they play longer. 

“We all say: ‘We’re England fans.’ But the clubs aren’t England fans. I understand. Why would they pay someone ridiculous sums of money and then only have them play ten games a year?

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“I can’t see it [central contracts] happening. But, for us to have a consistently successful international product, players need to focus on England.”

In the top 50 list of capped players, Leonard ranks 18th on 119 caps, 29 behind the charting-topping New Zealander, Richie McCaw, on 148.     

TOP 50 TEST RUGBY APPEARANCE LIST BY COUNTRY

AUSTRALIA – 8

Gregan (139), Moore (129), Ashley-Cooper (121), Sharpe (116), Smith (111), Genia (110), Kepu (110), Giteau (103)

NEW ZEALAND – 8

McCaw (148), Mealamu (132), Read (127), Woodcock (118), Whitelock (117), Carter (112), Franks (108), Nonu (103)

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ITALY – 7

Parisse (142), Castrogiovanni (119), Zanni (119), Bortolami (112), Bergamasco (106), Ghiraldini (104), Lo Cicero (103)

WALES – 5

AW Jones (147), Jenkins (134), S Jones (110), Williams (104), Thomas (103)

(*all won Lions caps)

IRELAND – 5 

O’Driscoll (141), O’Gara (130), Best (124), O’Connell (115), Hayes (107)

(* all bar Best won Lions caps)

SOUTH AFRICA – 5

Matfield (127), Habana (124), Mtawarira (117) Smit (111), de Villiers (109)

SCOTLAND – 3

Ford (111) Paterson (109), Lamont (105)

(*Ford won Lions caps) 

FRANCE – 2

Pelous (118), Sella (111) 

ROMANIA – 2

Vlaicu (124), Fercu (109)

GEORGIA – 2

Kacharava (122), Kvirikashvili (115)

RUSSIA – 2

Kushnarev (115), Gresev (103) 

ENGLAND – 1

Leonard (119) 

(*also won Lions caps)

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