Five rugby intellectuals

Five Rugby Intellectuals
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Many know the rugby quote that some have attributed to Winston Churchill and others to Arthur Tedder. The latter was a previous Chancellor of Cambridge University and Marshal of the Air Force. “Football is a gentleman’s game played by hooligans, and rugby is a hooligans’ game played by gentlemen.”  This article lists five rugby intellectuals. They give credence to the famous saying. They comprise two Welshmen, two Englishmen and a South African as excitement mounts ahead of the Lions versus South Africa 2021.

The quote above is perhaps a tad too simplistic in this day and age. It ignores any footballers who may have flourished academically, succeeded in business or involved themselves in charity work. Although not the norm in the round ball game, it is becoming more commonplace. The quote, however, hasn’t stood the test of time without some sort of justification.

Lions versus South Africa 2021

Let’s then raise a glass to five rugby intellectuals. Four from the British Isles and one from South Africa for balance. The Lions versus South Africa 2021 tour is now confirmed. It is rapidly approaching so it seemed fitting to focus on these particular nations. While gracing the pitch in fine style the following players would not look out of place in a hospital operating theatre, a university lecture hall, or delivering a presentation at a business meeting.

Jamie Roberts

The ex-Wales and British and Irish Lion graduated from Cardiff University of Medicine in 2013 as a qualified doctor. Roberts managed to keep both plates (rugby and medicine) spinning. An extremely impressive feat.

He’s a fluent Welsh speaker and possessor of multiple degrees: executive MBA from Loughborough University, Masters of Philosophy in Medical Science from Cambridge and a BSC in Sports and Exercise Science.

JPR Williams

Welsh and British and Irish Lion legend JPR played his rugby during Wales’ golden era. His father Peter was a doctor and JPR followed in his father’s footsteps by studying at St Marys Hospital Medical School in London. This was of course the amateur era when all rugby players had to dovetail their rugby career with paid employment.

He qualified as a physician in 1973 and in 1980 he became a fellow of the Royal College of Surgeons. JPR’s fearless and abrasive style of play on the paddock didn’t do him any harm. Remarkably he continued playing into his fifties for Tondu Thirds near Bridgend in Wales.

Five rugby intellectuals

Brian Moore

This English hooker possesses several strings to his bow. Moore was a multiple Grand Slam winner, World Cup finalist and a winning Lion during his noteworthy rugby career. He also studied Law at the University of Nottingham, graduating in 1984. He moved to London in 1990 to train as a solicitor. During his career as an England international, he was known to have read Shakespeare prior to taking the field. In particular the Harfleur speech from Henry V.

Not one to follow the herd, Moore qualified as a nail manicurist due to an ex-wife owning a nail bar in Soho, London. He made an appearance on Question Time, the political panel show in 2008. He also qualified as a rugby union referee in 2010 and spent several years writing about wine for the UK-based Sun newspaper.

Moore’s autobiography, Beware of the Dog won the Williams Hill Sports Book of the year in 2010. The book bravely talks about the sexual abuse he suffered as a child.

Maro Itoje

The fourth of our five rugby intellectuals is a politics graduate from the School of Oriental and African Studies. Itoje is passionate about his African and Nigerian heritage. His studies have enabled him to gain greater knowledge of this field of study.

Itoje is a British and Irish Lion and a strong candidate for this year’s tour even if England didn’t have the best of seasons in this year’s Six Nations. His podcast has him interviewing a wide range of people including politicians, musicians and business people.

Victor Matfield

The Springbok lock is a World Cup winner and was part of the South African team that beat the Lions when they last toured back in 2009. Matfield is a graduate of the University of Pretoria and his degree is in Accounting.

He put these accounting smarts to great use when facing opposition lineouts. Time and time again he was able to disrupt and steal opponents’ ball and with it foil their best-laid plans.

Matfield has encouraged others to pursue an education and is quoted as saying, “It is great that the younger generation of rugby players are showing an interest in studying towards a degree as it is something that is not focused on within rugby.


It’s encouraging to be reminded that this great game is full of all sorts of characters and opinions. With most athletes’ careers being relatively short it pays to have a plan-B and plan-C. These five rugby intellectuals show just what can be achieved with belief, hard work and support.


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