Rugby nicknames are a rich, humorous and sometimes mildly obscene part of the game. From the ubiquitous ‘big’ or adding ‘ers’ to the end of the surname, at the other end of the scale you have the more ingenious examples, such as English centre Billy Twelvetrees being called ‘36’ after one of his Irish clubmates pointed out that in his accent ‘twelve trees’ total that number.
Australian legend John Eales, a goal-kicking, twice World Cup-winning lock, was called ‘Nobody’ because “Nobody’s perfect”. Another favourite is former Wales winger Chris Czekaj, who was nicknamed 28 by his teammates at Cardiff. Why? Well that’s how many points you would get in Scrabble for his surname!
In writing Hard Men of Rugby a new book featuring 20 of the toughest players to ever play the game, from pre-WWI firebrands to modern day YouTube sensations I uncovered the most had at least one nickname so today we run down five of the best …
Brian Lima AKA ‘The Chiropractor’, despite having no formal medical training the Samoan great gained his reputation for his bone-crunching tackling that lit up five world cups. Speaking to me for this book, he recalls its origins: “I got it in 1996, which was my first Super 12 year with the Otago Highlanders. John Leslie, the captain of the Highlanders at the time, and the other boys started calling me ‘the Chiropractor’ so I asked John why and he told me that a chiropractor is a doctor who can click bones, literally. They said that every time I connected a tackle, they could hear ‘bones clicking’! Hence, the nickname! I am not sure I liked it at first but after all these years I don’t mind being called it.” Few players who had an unscheduled appointment with the Chiropractor would forget it!
Bobby Windsor AKA ‘The Iron Duke’, the steelworker and cornerstone of the dominant Welsh team of the 1970s he was renowned for bringing the physicality needed for his day job onto the pitch. His nickname came though not from the furnaces or pitches of South Wales, but from a French Rugby Union official. Les Bleus and Windsor’s Wales had some fearsome tussles in this period and in a speech post-dinner after one fixture, he was christened ‘the Iron Duke’ – a nickname first given to Arthur Wellesley, the Duke of Wellington; another man who knew a thing or two about defeating the French under difficult conditions.
Sébastien Chabal AKA ‘The Caveman’, it may seem hard to believe but there was a time when the French forward, one of the most famous faces in world rugby, was clean shaved and had a short back and sides. In 2005, with his wife became pregnant he resolved to let his beard and hair grow until the baby arrived. Little Lily Rose was born, but the hairy look remained, the Caveman nickname began being used and his career, not too mention his sponsorships and endorsements went into overdrive. He retired in 2014, but the look remains!
Paddy Mayne AKA ‘The Phantom Major’, for most a rugby career that took in playing for both his country, Ireland and the Lions would be enough to create a big reputation, but for Mayne, his play on the pitch was merely a prelude to some extraordinary World War II exploits. He was recruited into what would become the SAS, and would become one of its co-founders, seeing action in North Africa, Italy, France and Germany and winning a string of medals. He was most famous for his daring behind enemy lines operations, inspiring his own men and terrorising the Nazis which gave him his nickname. It was only his reputation for fiery behaviour and at times disrespect for authority that stopped him winning a deserved Victoria Cross.
Wade Dooley AKA ‘The Blackpool Tower’, the police service has a long history of supplying players to international teams and few could have been bigger than the English lock. His birth weight was 10lb 10oz and by the time he was on the force he was 6’ 8”, or 7’2” with his helmet on! Working the beat at the Lancashire seaside resort he states that he rarely had to get involved in physical confrontation – that’s no surprise! Though was often in the thick of some tussles in particular with France and Wales who had their own tough guys cops in their ranks. Those were the days!