McCaw one of the toughest - Owens

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    14 May 2018     Getty Images

Owens, writing in his column in, made his comment after remarks by England international and former Highlander James Haskell claimed rugby had gone soft.


Owens said the game was definitely cleaner at the top level than it was in the 1970s and 1980s but he didn't feel that made the game softer.

"Some see the rugby of 30-40 years ago as the good old days, but were those days really that good of the anecdotes about the dark deeds that supposedly took place are true?

"You hear some horror stories, about players getting booted at the bottom of rucks, about stamping and head-butting. Call me old-fashioned but that's not the kind of game I would want to be part of.

"Just because that stuff has been rooted out does not mean the game has gone soft," he said.

Some of the hits players suffered in games nowadays were 'thunderous', some of them made by players built like tanks. Yet, the people on the end of them got up and carried on in spite of the fact that all 206 bones in their bodies were probably still rattling, he said.

"The impact of collisions can be tremendous and the courage shown in every game never ceases to amaze," Owens said.

There was a difference between the 'hard' player and the 'dirty' player.
Professionalism had gone a long way towards cleaning the game up and television had shone a light on the 'brainless minority' responsible for dirty play and commercial interests had also had an impact through not wanting to be involved with that style of play.

"So the game had to clean itself up and my view is that today the product is infinitely better. The pace has picked up dramatically and so has the intensity and the ball is in play for more time. These days, tackles can be double the force," he said.

Looking at the 'hard' men in the game, Owens said, "Let's think of someone like Richie McCaw, capped 148 times by New Zealand despite playing in the most attritional of positions where every game he would be required to throw himself into harm's way, perhaps by locking himself over possession and soaking up the attention of immensely powerful forwards who would do everything they could to wipe him off the ball.

"That's what I call a genuine hard-man," he said.

Another was Martyn Williams, a 100-Test veteran for Wales and a British & Irish Lion, who rarely left the field without blood on his face but who kept coming back for more.

And another was diminutive Wales wing Shane Williams. "One of the smallest men to play rugby who took the hits from the big men yet rose to his feet and got on with the game, bringing his own incredible crowd-pleasing skill to proceedings.

"Shane had remarkable courage, as did McCaw and Williams," he said.

"Those three didn't need to venture outside the rules to prove anything," Owens said.