|Born||Barking, August 14 1968
|Internationals||114 caps between 1990 and 2004
|Inducted||England v Canada (November 13, 2004)
The record books show that Jason Leonard scored one international try at Twickenham. In fact he was credited with a different kind of try at HQ long before that touchdown against Argentina in 1996.
It was around the time that England were due to play Canada in 1992. Twickenham was a mess of rubble during reconstruction and Leonard was still an amateur while plying his trade as a carpenter.
Demolition of the West Stand had taken place and the man who was to become England’s and the world’s most capped player went there in search of one of the magnificent baths from the changing rooms, having assumed that they were being thrown out.
“They are fabulous things,” Leonard recalled. “A 6ft 6in guy could stretch out in them and they are about 3ft deep. But they weigh a ton, so I asked a couple of Irish builders to help me carry one from the Portakabin where they had been put and load it into the back of the van.”
They had almost completed the task when Don Rutherford, then technical director of the RFU, happened to pop his head around the corner of the van, saw what was going on and instructed the Irish workers to put the bath back in the lock-up hut.
He then turned to Leonard and said: “Nice try, Jason.”
Leonard, who had just recovered from a serious neck injury that had sidelined him for six months, was subsequently selected to face Canada. “I had played just two games for Harlequins post op when I was called into the side.”
That was a good reason to remember the match,. The fact that it was staged at Wembley because of the Twickenham makeover was another, but the third reason was the most compelling. This was the match when he first came up against one of the biggest rugby players in the world, all 6ft 8in and 20st of Canada lock Norm Hadley.
“One of the England lads got on the wrong side of an early ruck, so Hadley decided to get him out of the way. I took huge exception to Hadley’s method, so I threw one of the biggest punches of my life at him. He was bending down and my punch landed on his forehead. I thought, ‘Well, that’s you sorted.’”
But Hadley did not appear to notice anything. Leonard watched open-mouthed as Hadley straightened up. “I just had not realised how big he was. He started to stand up, and it went on and on, so I had plenty of time to watch this egg-sized lump growing on his forehead. For my part I had a dislocated finger. When Hadley finally stood up he looked at me and asked, ‘Is that all you’ve got, Princess?’ He spent the rest of the match chasing me around the pitch. Fortunately he never caught me.”
The pair have since become good friends and Canada have closed the gap on the rest of the rugby world, to Leonard’s obvious pleasure.
“Canada produces rugged, athletic, aggressive players of considerable ability,” he says. “And when you consider the logistics of getting all the players together from all over their vast country for a squad session, the fact they are so competitive is all the more impressive.”
Article by Dai Llewellyn