The North of England has a proud and distinguished rugby union history and it is fitting that England head to Newcastle for their final Rugby World Cup warm-up game.
In celebration of England’s first Test match in Newcastle, we have put together a team of the greatest English rugby players from the North of the country.
No arguments here. Jason Robinson would make most ‘Greatest Ever’ sides. Wigan’s cross-code sensation made his debut against Italy in 2001 and went on a glittering union career winning a Grand Slam, The Rugby World Cup, and the English Premiership for Sale Sharks.
1980 was England’s first outright championship coach since 1963. In Victory, England head coach Mike Davis declared he had five world class players: Fran Cotton, Peter Wheeler, Roger Uttley, Tony Neary and Mike Slemen. Slemen edges out his England team-mate John Carleton from Orrell.
In more recent years, John Bentley, Austin Healey, Mark Cueto and Chris Ashton were all exceptional talents, however Middlesbrough-born Rory Underwood takes the left wing position, the RAF fighter pilot is still England’s top try scorer of all time with 49.
Two Sedbergh and Durham University alumni make up our centre pairing. World Cup Winner Will Greenwood plays inside England’s three-time Grand Slam-winning captain Will Carling. Greenwood’s World Cup partner Mike Tindall just misses out.
1991 was a busy year in the Farrell household. Andy Farrell made his Wigan debut and had his first child. Owen Farrell would follow in his father’s footsteps to Saracens where the fly-half has developed into one of the best players in the world. Here are some top-class No 10’s who would have to scrap it out for the bench: Alan Old, Rob Andrew, Paul Grayson, and George Ford.
Orrell’s Dewi Morris and Leeds Tykes’ Danny Care are scrum-halves of different style and stature. With two Grand Slams to his name and three Lions Test starts on a tour to New Zealand, Dewi Morris with socks rolled down is in at 9.
Forty years ago, the North of England beat the mighty All Blacks on a wet November day in Otley. Five forwards from the North’s pack make our starting eight, including props Colin White and Fran Cotton.
Gosforth’s Colin White, ‘the archetypal hard-man’, was a tree surgeon by trade. He accidentally cut off his fingers with a chainsaw and realised on the way to hospital he had forgotten his fingers and calmly turned around to collect them. He came back from the injury to win four caps for England.
Fran Cotton is better known to rugby followers, the former England captain was part of the British Lions famous series win in South Africa, 1974.
Brian Moore, affectionately known as ‘Pitbull’, had three Grand Slams to his name 1991, ’92 and ’95. He completes our uncompromising front row.
World Rugby Chairman Bill Beaumont was captain of the North of England when they beat the All Blacks in 1979 and captain of England for their 1980 Grand Slam. He is of course our captain in the No 4 Jersey.
The partner in the engine room would be 6’8” Wade Dooley, the Police officer who was part of a victorious Lions tour and has two Grand Slams to his name. 2013 Lion Geoff Parling would add some fresh legs from the bench.
Broughton Park’s Tony Neary was not only part of the North’s win over the All Blacks but he also played in England’s pioneering team to win in South Africa and New Zealand in the 1970’s. He gets our openside shirt.
Roger Uttley from Gosforth RFC is the fifth member of the 1979 North of England pack – a granite like forward who made his name on the 1974 Lions Tour to South Africa, he has the No 8 shirt to give room for Geordie Mickey Skinner on the blindside.
You could easily swap these three for a back-up back row of Rodber, Winterbottom and Peter Dixon, such is the conveyor belt of talent from the North.
North of England XV
15 Jason Robinson
14 Mike Slemen
13 Will Carling
12 Will Greenwood
11 Rory Underwood
10 Owen Farrell
9 Dewi Morris
1 Colin White
2 Brian Moore
3 Fran Cotton
4 Bill Beaumont
5 Wade Dooley
6 Mickey Skinner
7 Tony Neary
8 Roger Uttley
Here’s a coaching ticket that this group of players would deserve…
DOR: Sir Ian McGeechan
Backs coach: Brian Ashton
Forwards coach: Alex Sanderson
Lineout coach : Steve Borthwick
Defence coach: Shaun Edwards
Manager: John Spencer
(c) Sky Sports 2019: North of England XV