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Fran Cotton

Fran Cotton

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BornWigan, March 1 1947
PositionTight-head prop
Internationals31 caps between 1971 and 1981
InductedEngland v South Africa (November 20, 2004)

He might not have played in a full-blooded Test on home soil against South Africa, but Fran Cotton did lock horns with one or two of their legendary figures at Twickenham.

It was the occasion of the iconic prop’s third cap for England. The Rugby Football Union was celebrating its Centenary in 1971 and the 23-year-old Loughborough Colleges tight-head found himself lining up against some serious rugby legends.

“There was Colin Meads for a start,” recalled Cotton. “Possibly New Zealand’s greatest forward ever. And he was paired in the second row alongside Hannes Marais, a superbly talented South African lock. For 15 minutes that was probably the finest second row pairing in the world. Unfortunately Meads injured his back after a quarter of an hour and had to leave the field.”

Cotton is an unashamed admirer of Springbok rugby. He subsequently toured the Republic a year later under the captaincy of John Pullin. “Micky Burton was picked at tight-head for the Test, but it was an incredible experience. My lasting impressions of South African rugby are, and always will be, of brown playing fields, sunshine, full houses and a dynamic style of play.”

Cotton has been something of a nemesis to the Boks whether playing them, watching from the stand or managing their opponents. England won the 1972 confrontation. Two years later as a 1974 British and Irish Lion, Cotton shared in the stunning series win, taking part in the infamous ‘99’ call from captain Willie-John McBride, which saw the tourists getting their retaliation in first against a very physical side and mixing it with their opponents in a brutal third Test.

Later Cotton managed the 1997 Lions tour to South Africa, which resulted in a series win for the tourists. But back at Twickenham in 1971, the Springboks in that President’s XV enjoyed a special moment – victory against a side that included Cotton.

It was his third defeat on the trot in an England shirt, but Cotton’s worst memory of headquarters came in 1982, just after he had retired. He was heading for the home dressing room to congratulate his close mate Steve Smith on leading England to victory over Wales – a rare thing in those days.

“Bob Weighill, who was secretary of the Rugby Football Union at the time, stopped me and asked me where I was going. I told him I was off to the England dressing room to congratulate my former team-mates. But he said, ‘Sorry you’re not allowed in there.’ I was so upset. It was, and still is, my worst moment at Twickenham.”

But he has also had some great moments, including the matches there on the way to the 1980 Grand Slam. His fondness for the ground is evident when he calls to mind that the French refer to Twickenham as ‘The Cathedral of Rugby’. Now the game’s icon has rightfully taken his place in that very cathedral after being elevated to the Wall of Fame.


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