Rugby’s Hardest Men

Ever see a soccer football player writhing on the ground after faking an injury?  It’s one of the most shameful and blatant ways to earn a penalty in favor of your team.  You won’t see those sorts of shenanigans in rugby — a true contact sport!  Here’s a list of just some of the remarkable All Blacks that soldiered on through the battle.

Dick Conway – amputated finger

rugby hardasses1 - dick conway

Dick Conway played Number 8 for the All Blacks between 1959 and 1965.  “A softball catcher (he represented Rotorua at that sport in 1956) Dick Conway broke his finger during a game. The finger set very badly and was obviously going to suffer further damage at work, Dick Conway was a carpenter, or play, either softball or rugby. So, to avoid a problem whilst with the All Blacks in South Africa Conway had the finger amputated. “ He went on play an important role in the All Blacks 3-1 series victory during the 1965 tour of South Africa.

Colin Meads – broken arm

rugby hardasses5 - Colin Meads

The legendary Colin Meads played lock for New Zealand between 1957-1971.  He was known as “pinetree” and became the quintessential All Black and longest serving of his day.  He dominated the field and protected his team mates, becoming one of the great enforcers of the team.  During the 1970 All Blacks tour of South Africa, only 6 minutes into playing Eastern Transvaal, Meads emerged from a ruck with a broken arm.  He taped the arm up and played on for the rest of the match!  “Though he recovered and appeared in the final two tests he was not quite the force of old.”

Buck Shelford – torn scrotum

Buck Shelford

Playing at Number 8 from 1985-1990, Buck Shelford went on to be one of the most successful All Black captains.  He is also known for redefining the pre-game haka and giving it bite.  Buck was controversially dropped after his 1990 Test series against Scotland.  The public movement to “Bring Back Buck” which began in 1990 survives, albeit jokingly, to this day.  

During the 1986 All Blacks vs France test, Shelford was kicked by a French boot.  Not only did he lose four teeth, but his scrotum was famously ripped open.  He had his manhood sewn back up on the sidelines and returned to the field to see out the match!

Richie McCaw – broken foot

Richie McCaw limps off the field. He'll be back!

Playing for the All Blacks since late 2001, Richie McCaw has remained the incumbent Number 7 since 2003, and captain since 2006.  One of New Zealand’s greatest rugby players, McCaw has been a talisman for victory during his tenure with the team.  The chart below lists the mounting injuries McCaw had acquired prior to his six month sabbatical in 2012/2013.  The chart does not include the knee to the face and headbutt from Scott Higginbotham in the subsequent test!

McCaws Injury Sept 12What makes McCaw’s longevity so amazing is the fact he plays Openside Flanker.  “As scavengers for possession in and around the rucks and mauls, they are often faced with 50-50 balls and therefore need to put their bodies on the line with little thought for the consequences.”  He played through the later stages of the 2011 Rugby World Cup tournament with a broken foot, refusing to allow it to be X-rayed.  The nation was already in panic after vice captain Dan Carter’s tournament ending injury and McCaw was determined not to pull out.  He contented himself with painkillers and kept the extent of the injury from his coaches.  In the presence of the team and the media he grit his teeth and tried to walk normally.  The seriousness of the injury was made all the more amazing after the final whistle blew and Richie’s All Blacks were once again world champions!

Sam Cane – blood loss


Debuting for the All Blacks in 2012, Sam Cane has had to wait his turn to get game time as Richie McCaw still owns the Number 7 jersey.  However, with Richie’s well deserved six month sabbatical, Cane got three starts against France in 2013 as well as covering when McCaw has been injured.  His bloodiest battle so far has been at Eden Park against the Springboks where his forehead was cut open and he was sent to the blood bin by the referee.  After getting stitched up at half time, Cane returned to the fray in the second half and finished out the game!  McCaw acknowledged his understudy’s efforts with a handshake at the end of the match.  His efforts against the Springboks in South Africa and against Australia in Dunedin the following week have given him good claim to be the heir to Number 7.