10 of the Aviva Premiership’s ‘Golden Oldies’
Former Wasps, Saracens and Leicester Tigers fly-half Andy Goode dusted off his boots to make a sensational return to top tier rugby with Newcastle Falcons on a three-month contract on Monday, just months after announcing his retirement.
At the age of 35, many have questioned Dean Richards’s decision to hand the number 10 a top-flight return but following injuries to crucial players his experience could prove key in the North-East based club’s battle against relegation.
But there are many ‘golden oldies’ who have defied their age (and bodies) and are continuing to make an impact well into their thirties.
So to celebrate Goode’s return, here is RUCK’s ten favourite veteran stars who proceed to resist the temptation to don their pipe and slippers.
Who is your favourite?!…
1. Nick Evans (Harlequins)
His wealth of experience combined with seemingly limitless energy and outstanding goalkicking, Evans remains a very useful player for Quins long after many of his generation have hung up their boots for good.
Since the 35-year-old All Black joined Quins back in 2008, the fly-half has been a chief architect of the on-field success of the club, scoring over 2000 points for the South-West London based side so far.
2. Jean de Villiers (Leicester Tigers)
A master of the midfield, the experienced, well-travelled 34-year-old puts many of today’s centres to shame with his all-around ability to effect a game at both ends of the pitch.
The World Cup-winning Springbok, who has won over 100 caps for his country, will look to bring some of his talents to an already hard-working Leicester Tiger’s side and will be hoping to play a significant part at Welford Road during the second half of the seasom.
3. Victor Matfield (Northampton Saints)
Kicking off his career with the Bulls in 1998, Matfield actually retired following South Africa’s Rugby World Campaign in 2011 before he returned three years later, signing a two-year playing contract with the Bulls to keep him in the game until the end of 2015.
All his achievements considered – three Currie Cups, three Super Rugby triumphs, two-time Tri-Nations champion, World Cup Runner Up and Rugby World Cup winner in 2007, makes it all the more remarkable that the 38-year-old lock continues to play the game with such dedication, signing for Saints at the beginning of the 2015/16 Premiership season.
4. Daniel Braid (Sale Sharks)
After what seemed like a lifetime at Auckland and Blues, the experienced back-rower turned up in Europe, signing for Aviva Premiership side Sale Sharks in 2012 before being named Captain two years later.
Although now in his final years, the 34-year-old former All Black has continues to put in committed performances, helping Sale to an improved seventh place finish in the Aviva Premiership last term.
5. Lorenzo Cittadini (Wasps)
The Italian international made his name on his native shores, spending the majority of his career at Calvisano and Benetton Treviso between 2005 and 2014.
After some impressive showings at the Rugby World Cup in 2011, the prop was linked with numerous clubs around Europe but wouldn’t land in the Aviva Premiership until 2014 when he signed with Wasps.
The 33-year-old has gone on to establish himself as a stalwart in Dai Young’s front row and has carried that on during the 2015/16 season so far with some imposing displays.
6. Charlie Hodgson (Saracens)
The 35-year-old Sarries number 10 announced he is hanging his boots up for good at the end of the season.
However, he is still one of the most reliable goalkickers and pacesetters in the Aviva Premiership today.
He may somewhat play second fiddle to Owen Farrell these days, but the England international, who won 38 Test caps, has still maintained a high level of performance well into his 30s in the top flight and will finish his career as the leading Premiership points scorer of all time.
7. Neil de Kock (Saracens)
South African veteran De Kock made his debut for Saracens against London Irish on 30 September 2006 and has been a sturdy figure at the London-based club ever since.
The 37-year-old scrum-half has continued to make a contribution for Sarries over the years with it seeming a lifetime ago when he was at the heart of the Springbok team at the Rugby World Cup in 2003.
Will it be a second consecutive Aviva Premiership titles for the playmaker come April? You wouldn’t put it past him; he is a born winner.
8. Stuart Hooper (Bath Rugby)
The Bath lock does not attract the spotlight, does not incite media frenzies in the manner of team-mates such as George Ford or Kyle Eastmond, does not have to fight his way through a throng of autograph hunters, but for his head coach, Mike Ford, the stalwart Captain is “the most important man at the club”.
He has been skipper now for four and half seasons, he is held in the highest esteem by his peers, and the 34-year-old just seems to be getting better and better as both a player and a leader.
9. Tom Johnson (Exeter Chiefs)
Exeter Chiefs star Johnson started playing rugby with the Oxfordshire based amateur club Chinnor, who were then plying their trade in South West Division 1 before outstanding form earned him a move to read Reading in 2004, who had just gained promotion to National Division Three South.
The back-row joined Coventry a year later before signing for Exeter Chiefs in 2007. He was as a part of the Exeter team that gained promotion from the RFU Championship to the Aviva Premiership.
Now, aged 33, Johnson continues to come consistently to Rob Baxter’s aid as Europes most upwardly club Exeter proceed to improve and develop.
10. John Afoa (Gloucester)
All Black Afoa officially joined Gloucester Rugby in the English Aviva Premiership on a four-year contract worth £508,000 per season.
This contract made him the highest-paid player in the Premiership and the third highest-paid player in European rugby.
The 32-year-old prop is still up there with the best scrummagers in the world with him playing a significant role in the Cherry and Whites European Challenge Cup triumph during the 2014/15 season.