Rugby’s most popular tighthead props: Where are they now?

Rugby's most popular tighthead props

Rugby’s most popular tighthead props is a contentious discussion. Personal opinions, the passing of time and the ever-evolving nature of the professional game mean that not everyone will agree on a final list.

The importance of tighthead props

Rugby is the beautiful game made for all shapes and sizes and all positions are important. This is especially true of the tighthead prop though. It is an old rugby saying that competition wins are built around tighthead props. If you don’t have a quality tighthead, you don’t have a great scrum. If you don’t have a great scrum, you will always be on the back foot even if you are in possession.

Rugby’s most popular tighthead props

Ryan Jordan polled social media users, asking them who they thought rugby’s most popular tighthead props of all time were. The results are loosely grouped by country. As this is an “of all time” exercise, no current players were considered to avoid a recency bias.

Not all rugby-playing countries are included in this list as it was limited to the most mentioned players. What is interesting when we consider all countries and the numbers of registered players in each one, there are some surprising results. Who would have thought that Madagascar has more registered players than Russia and Canada?


The Australian vote went to an Argentinian player who played two Rugby World Cups for Los Pumas before moving to Australia and qualifying to play for the Wallabies, Patricio Noriega.

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Noriega was a renowned scrummager, with no frills. If it wasn’t for his time out of international rugby to qualify for Australia, his Test cap count would have far exceeded the combined total of 49 he ended up with. If Los Pumas fans had voted, he would most likely have been their most popular tighthead prop as well.

Noriega has held various coaching positions since his retirement, most notably with Racing 92.

New Zealand

Two New Zealanders stood out. Carl Hayman and Richard Loe. Hayman took the honours as the most popular.

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Hayman is acknowledged as a great scrummager. Aside from his Test career with the All Blacks, his significant successes in Europe give him the edge. Hayman, who is All Black number 1000, played 46 Tests, 149 games for Otago and the Highlanders, 64 games for Newcastle Falcons and a monumental 156 for Toulon. Hayman’s Test career would have been more significant, but he opted to play in Europe and therefore was not considered for All Black selection due to their home-based player selection policy.

Hayman has unfortunately been diagnosed with early-onset dementia due to numerous concussions.

South Africa

The South African contribution presented two strong contenders. Tommie Laubscher and Cobus Visagie.

Laubscher is fondly remembered as a fantastic scrummager. His career was sadly a very short one. He made his senior-level provincial debut at the age of 27 and only played 6 Tests. That was enough though to leave a lasting impression on local fans. With an earlier start to his senior career, he would have left an impression on many loosehead props as well. He sadly died at the age of only 43 after being hit by a motor car in bad weather conditions.

It is Visagie’s longevity as a strong and reliable tighthead prop that made him popular. He played 88 games for Western Province/Stormers, 29 Tests for the Springboks and 121 games for Saracens. He would have added many more Tests to his total if he had played more rugby in South Africa. At the time of his playing career, overseas-based players were not considered for international selection.

Visagie is currently giving back to the game as a forwards and scrum coach in South Africa.


Martin Castrogiovanni is remembered by many as the caveman anchor or the Italian scrum. He is the second Argentinian player on this list who ended up settling in another country.

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His match statistics speak for themself. He played 119 Tests for Italy and 273 senior club games, spread between Calvisano, Leicester Tigers, Toulon and Racing 92. Included in those 119 Tests are four Rugby World Cup tournaments.

Like every good front row forward, Castrogiovani is a lover of food and is co-owner of a restaurant in Leicester.


Phil Vickery‘s name was the one most mentioned by England Rugby fans. Once again, it is his longevity in the tighthead prop position that makes him stand out.

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Vickery’s career included 73 Tests for England and another five for the British and Irish Lions. He played a further 199 games for Gloucester and Wasps. Adding to his popularity was his win in the 2011 season of Celebrity Masterchef TV program. He recently opened his own restaurant, aptly named No. 3.


Adam Jones was the most popular Welsh tighthead prop. Jones played 100 Test matches. 95 for Wales and a further 5 for the British and Irish Lions. At a professional club level, he played a further 189 games.

Jones now plies his trade as the scrum coach at Harlequins in the Gallagher Premiership.

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South African-born Pieter de Villiers stood out as the favoured French number 3. De Villiers played 69 Tests for France. He also played 150 games for Stade Francais.

His playing career was cut short by a back injury that he was unable to recover from. He has done stints with both South Africa and Scotland as scrum coach after his playing career ended.

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Rugby’s most popular tighthead props – the defining factor

Longevity. No prop would have a long career without being at the forefront of their team’s scrum for many years. There is no place to hide in the front row. A prop can be a great ball carrier or tackler, but if he (or she) cannot anchor the scrum, they will be backed down the pecking order as quickly as they are in a scrum. Physical size, strength and technique are all requirements that make world-class props.

Tighthead props often do not get the due credit they deserve. The big boys with the low numbers are just as important as the flashy flyhalves and screaming scrummies.

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