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Why the 'scariest man' Ben Kay even met didn't make his Immortals XV

By Liam Heagney
(Photo by David Rogers/Getty Images)

Ben Kay has become the final BT Sport rugby pundit to name his Premiership Immortals XV ahead of this Saturday’s round-table debate show featuring the former Leicester second row, Lawrence Dallaglio, Austin Healey and Ugo Monye.

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The 2003 England World Cup winner included a chunk of his old Tigers teammates but one of the most interesting parts of his selection chat with presenter Craig Doyle surrounded his description of a player he didn’t pick.

“If he still lived in the UK, I would have gone for Henry Tuilagi,” admitted Kay when sifting through the other contenders for the No8 position he awarded to Dallaglio, his current TV colleague.

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“We didn’t see enough of him but if he had stayed fit and stayed in England, he would have been the best Tuilagi we have seen and certainly the scariest man I have ever met.

“There is a picture online of him and his brothers and Manu looks about half the size of him – and Manu is a big boy. He is frighteningly big.

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“We did a boxing session just for fitness. Martin Johnson was holding a tackle shield and Henry had gloves on and was just hitting into the body and Martin Johnson nearly retired from the sport that day to manage Henry as a heavyweight boxer because he said every single shot nearly broke his ribs. Frightening bloke.”

A Tuilagi brother who did make the cut in the Kay XV was Alesana on the left wing in a back three that also featured Chris Ashton and Geordan Murphy.

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“You would go to England training and some of the backs that might be playing against him the next few weeks would come up to try and get some information, what is he really like, and you would build the fear a little bit and say he is a monster.

“He didn’t really like January that much when it was cold but at his best, he was absolutely unplayable and would score scored tries that just shouldn’t have been scored… he was probably an underrated player but one of my first choices.”

The rest of the backline consisted of half-backs Danny Care and Owen Farrell, with a midfield combination of Brad Barritt and Fraser Waters, but given his own career in the engine room, Kay had much more to say about the forwards in his Immortals XV.

His front row was made up of Marcos Ayerza, Schalk Brits and Martin Castrogiovanni and he had this to say about his hooker choice. “What is interesting about Schalk Brits is he might not have done as well at Leicester and certain other clubs.

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“Saracens adapted their game plan to suit the strengths of Schalk Brits, so some of the traditional roles a hooker might do other people had to fill in for. So he could stand at the back to receive the kicks and be the first ball-carrier back.

“But he is someone who completely revolutionised his position. He was the first guy I ever met when I got into TV, a big beaming smile on his face, always had a big grin on his face every single time he played the game as well but could just do things with the ball in hand and with his footwork that no one else could do. He was so important to the success of Saracens.”

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As for his cult figure tighthead, Kay explained: “His hair is probably the only reason I have put him in. There is a bit of hair envy there. A hugely popular around the rugby globe, particularly at Tigers. Castrogiovanni was a tighthead ahead of his time. He could scrummage like a Julian White or a Dan Cole, but he was a really athletic ball carrier, a good off-loader, marauding.

“But he also had an aura, partly because of the image about him, the hair and the whole thing. He is one of the superstars that came into our league and bettered it. Great physique as well. He scrummaged in an era when scrummaging was all important for a tighthead but he could now not have to change his game at all and still be the best tighthead in the Premiership.”

Having partnered with Johnson for club and country, Key had no hesitation in naming him in his XV alongside Maro Itoje. “If Martin Johson hadn’t existed Simon Shaw was the other person I would have put into that position. If Shaw had been born French, he would have been one of the biggest names ever in world rugby – they use their second rows slightly differently.

“But Martin Johnson is someone who never ever lowered his level of performance. If he made a mistake, it never affected him. He would be thinking of his next job. Just always made the right decisions. For someone so tough and demanding of those around him, he had really good empathy for what made the others tick.

“Just the perfect captain really, never thought about what he had to say. Sometimes was at his most powerful when he was quiet but led by example. One of the greatest players of my era certainly… people were scared of him, not just physically but scared of his level of performance. Born winners are really important, people that have that X-factor that no one else quite has.”

At the back row, Kay went with Courtney Lawes along with Neil Back and Dallaglio. “A brilliant lineout forward who is going to win you a lot of ball but also upset the opposition. Exocet tackler. One of the things that has impressed me most is how he has changed his game. When he first started he tackled a certain way and started getting a lot of shoulder injuries, so he changed his tackling.

“Then it was Eddie Jones who said he didn’t carry enough so he changed his game and became more of a primary ball carrier and he did that very well, so he seems to adapt to whatever is thrown at him. He may be the quiet, silent assassin but the performances don’t dip. He has had to deal with a lot of injuries, but he managed to get through those.”

Reflecting on the entire XV he chose, Kay reckoned: “If you were coaching against this team, you would worry because it has got everything. It has got some flash and flair, it’s got a hard edge and it’s a nice mix of what was great about the old stuff and what is good about the new stuff… if you had to pick a side to win any Premiership season over the last 20 years, this one would have done it.”

Ben Kay’s Immortals XV: 15. Geordan Murphy; 14. Chris Ashton, 12. Fraser Waters, 12. Brad Barritt, 11, Alesana Tuilagi; 10. Owen Farrell, 9. Danny Care; 1. Marcos Ayerza, 2. Schalk Brits, 3. Martin Castrogiovanni, 4. Martin Johnson, 5. Maro Itoje, 6. Courtney Lawes, 7. Neil Back, 8. Lawrence Dallaglio.

  • Watch BT Sport’s Premiership Immortals on BT Sport 1 from 1pm on Saturday, May 27, to see who makes the greatest Premiership XV of all time. The final episode will be followed by BT Sport’s exclusive live coverage of the Gallagher Premiership final from 2pm on BT Sport 1 btsport.com/immortals
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1 Comment
f
finn 395 days ago

"I once saw a man in Scunthorpe kill a man, skin him, and then wear his flesh as a cloak. He was terrifying. Definitely the scariest man I have ever met. I don't think he ever played rugby though so I'd have to say that he doesn't make my immortals XV"

I can't believe this is a real quote from Ben Kay!

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