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The game's biggest thugs: Where are the Boks?

STATS AND FACTS: As that well-worn maxim goes: There are three kinds of lies – lies, damned lies, and statistics.


However, statistics is also a very handy tool to separate ‘fact from fiction’.

We are going to use the numbers to explain – or attempt to – who are the biggest ‘thugs’ in the game.

While South Africans have a bad reputation – and at times some players are and were rather brutal – when you take a close look at the numbers, you quickly realise those perceptions are often fatally flawed.

Let’s take the legend that is John Philip ‘Bakkies’ Botha.

Just a quick Google for ‘Biggest thugs’ will have him listed in the top three, with an array of accompanying videos to suggest that he is the dirtiest player ever to set foot on the field.

However, that is a classic case of ‘perception’ being fatally flawed!


Botha is truly a giant of the game. However, not once in the 85 Tests was he red-carded.

Despite the odd ban – after being cited – his record is far more vestal that most of his peers. In fact, Botha comes nowhere near the top 10 of the biggest thugs in international rugby.

Then there is the bad rap that another hard man Schalk Burger got for the physical nature of his game. He also has no red cards on his record, but he does have six yellow cards – one for eye-gouging.

But does that make him the game’s biggest thug?


Not even close!

Using a simple formula where a red card is worth five points and a yellow card worth two points, we calculated who the top 10 ‘thugs’ in the game are.

* (To see the full table, look below)

SA red cards in Tests

Based on the formula of red and yellow cards earned in international rugby, retired Georgian back row forward Vito Kolelishvili is the worst.

He was red-carded just once in his 50 Tests, but yellow-carded eight times – earning him 21 thug points.

Kolelishvili just edges Argentinean bad-boy Thomas Lavanini – two red cards and five yellow cards in 56 Tests – 20 points.

A very close third is Italian hard man Marco Bortolami – one red and seven yellow cards in 112 Tests for 19 points.

Surprisingly, the South African placed highest in the top 10 is someone you would least expect – legendary wing and record-breaking try-scorer Bryan Habana. He collected seven yellow cards in 124 Tests – mostly for cynical fouls, nothing nasty. His 14 ‘thug’ points place him in joint seventh place.

Another interesting name is Wallaby captain Michael Hooper – who sits in joint fifth place with eight yellow cards, 16 points.

Burger and 10 other players sit joint ninth on this list – all on 12 points.

For the record, nine South Africans were red-carded in Test rugby.

The first-ever Springbok to be given his marching orders in a Test was the late James Small. He was carded by England referee Ed Morrison in the second Test between the Springboks and Wallabies in Brisbane on 14 August 1993.

Other red cards blotting Bok history are James Dalton, Damian de Allende, Bismarck du Plessis (later rescinded, because French referee Romain Poite had made a blatant mistake), Marius Joubert, Janus Labuschagne, Percy Montgomery, Andre Venter and Brendan Venter.

(Continue reading below … )

If you look at some of the domestic or franchises competitions, a very different and interesting picture emerges.

The English Premiership has some really bad boys at the top of their list.

The most red cards in the premiership belong to England prop Julian White – five in 164 games.

He is beaten into a distant second place at the top of the Premiership bad-boy totem pole by fellow England international David Paice – the hooker collecting three red cards and 18 yellow cards in his 203 matches, for 51 thug points.

White, with seven yellow cards to go with his five red cards, manages a ‘paltry’ 39 points. England utility forward Gareth Archer comes in third – two reds and 14 yellow for 28 points in 121 points.

Super Rugby also has a runaway winner.

All Black Ma’a Nonu is well clear with his two red cards and eight yellow cards in his 89 Super Rugby matches for 26 points.

Bismarck du Plessis probably earned most of his bad rap in Super Rugby – sharing second place with fellow South African Deon Stegmann, with one red card and five yellow cards for 15 points.

Jean Deysel (SA) and James Horwill (Aus) are the only Super Rugby players other than Nonu to have earned more than one red card.

Both collected two red And two yellow cards for 14 points.


Biggest thugs Top 10

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