Place of Birth: Dormansland, May 23, 1973
Internationals: 71 caps between 1997 and 2008
Inducted: England v New Zealand (November 21, 2009)
The following article has been adapted from the original by Dai Llewellyn, which focused on two players. It has been changed to highlight only the selected inductee’s information.
Had not injury cruelly ended his career, Richard Hill would almost certainly have come close to a century of appearances for England.
As it is, the former Saracens flanker still did enough to more than deserve his status as a legendary figure in the world game, let alone in his home country.
In December 1997 England took on the All Blacks in an epic match, described by observers at the time as “stupendous” a game where the rugby was “played at a stupefying pace and with a ferocious intensity sustained from beginning to end”.
It was one of two matches between England and New Zealand at Twickenham that Hill remembers with pride. The second one was in 2002. But for Hill the first of those tests was the more important.
“I think the first one probably had a significance, when we drew 26-26 in 1997. Firstly because of the first-half performance that we put in. We scored three tries, playing a very good brand of rugby.
“But I think the match also probably opened our eyes to the fact that although we had great ability, we didn’t have the fitness to back it up, and that lack of fitness allowed New Zealand to come back in. We had to come back with a penalty right at the end to draw it.”
Hill had personal cause to recall the historic draw, because he scored one of those first half tries ( he would go on to score a total of 12 for England). Not content with touching the ball down once, he touched it down a second time to be sure, as he explained: “I remember that Will Greenwood seemed to be doing a dancing run that looked as if it was never going to end.
“But I kept following him, kept supporting and eventually I think he threw the ball on to the floor at my feet and I managed to scoop it up and drop down. I remember putting it on the line, but after I’d done so, one of the New Zealand defenders managed to tackle me and knocked me back infield. So I went back to try to score it again, just to make sure, if there was any doubt first time. There was no grandiose solo run or anything like that on my part, just some support play for Will.”
It was an important score and a major contribution to the team ethic, and the result was also to have a long-term influence on the England team. “After that draw we knew we could stay in there, although we knew we did have some work to do. But there was a belief that we could actually do it now.”
Fast forward five years and there was proof that England had learned the lessons of that thrilling confrontation with the All Blacks. When the two sides met again at Twickenham, they did not stop at a draw. This time they went on to record a victory, only England’s fourth over the All Blacks in 16 Tests at Headquarters. True, they came close to snatching defeat from the jaws of victory after throwing away a lead of 31-14 with three quarters of the match gone, but this time they had the fitness and the self-belief to hold on.
Early in the 21st century England were on something of a roll, performing clinically and well under Clive Woodward. “In 2002 we were starting to build on that confidence on the way to the 2003 World Cup,” Hill recalled. “We knew that these were the sides we needed to beat, and here we were actually rewarded with a victory against New Zealand.”
In addition to their superlative organisation and approach under Woodward, there was also another factor to be taken into consideration when England beat the All Blacks in 2002 – the venue.
Twickenham is a special place and no one knows that better than Hill. “Your home venue is a massive environment for you,” he says. “An environment where you have to create a winning habit. We all know that playing at home actually means you expect to have a big following, therefore the atmosphere created by the support of the team is that much greater.
“Twickenham can be intimidating to opponents, without a doubt. As long as you are doing the business on the pitch, backed up by the supporters, then it can be difficult for the opposition. You can then use that to your own advantage.
“When you are going through particularly good runs, as we were fortunate enough to be doing at Twickenham seven years ago, the crowd continually gets behind you and there is an excitement and a buzz whenever some of the exciting players in our side got the ball in their hands.
“Whenever Jason Robinson caught the ball, it didn’t matter whether he was 50 metres, 60 metres, 70 metres behind you – you knew, as a forward, that you were going to have to get back, that he was going to have a go, because everyone wanted to see him have a go. And that was why he was being picked. It was great to see. It was great that he had the confidence to do it.”
Twickenham can have a pretty profound effect on a debutant. “Everyone has memories of their first game,” said Hill. “I’d experienced Twickenham as a spectator. I’d played a match there for my school, a couple of matches with my college, but never to a full house. I was very fortunate that my first international cap was at Twickenham, against Scotland in 1997.
“Just to be in the changing room, to hear the noise. I remember warming up and I thought, ‘This is OK.’ But there had been maybe 10,000 spectators in the stadium when we had walked out to warm-up well before the kick-off.
“To be in the changing room and to hear that noise building up outside as kick-off drew nearer, it gave me goosebumps. The sound in the tunnel as we ran out was such a colossal noise. I was something I had never experienced before and certainly I know that it gave me a positive mental lift. It enthused me to want to get into the game and be all action but although I was doing my job, I had to be a little bit careful and not get over-enthusiastic and make errors.”
Hill also harboured warm memories of the changing rooms and the famous individual baths: deep, long and so inviting with their plumes of steam after a bitterly cold 80 minutes on the pitch.
“There is no doubt that unless you had been in some luxurious place, the baths at Twickenham were amazing. But it got ruined the day the sports scientists decided you weren’t allowed to have a bubble bath after an international, which is pretty much what we were allowed when I first played for England. Often we would be lying in the bath with a can of sponsored lager or something.
“Then they changed it the rules and we could only have ice baths. They put a stop watch on you and you had to stay in it for five minutes. The day that all started was quite a bad day.”
There are other special memories that Hill cherishes as well. “When you started, you had a wooden plaque with an English rose with your name on it that was put over your place in the changing room at Twickenham.
“The other thing I remember about playing at Twickenham was that internal warmth you derived from running out onto the pitch, I think that is probably the most special memory for me, just running out on the pitch and knowing everyone in the crowd is behind you.”
Henceforth Hill will always be a part of Twickenham, following his elevation on to the World Rugby Museum’s Wall of Fame.
“It is a true honour. I am very honoured to be there. I thoroughly enjoyed my time in the game and I wouldn’t change it for anything.”
Spoken like a true giant of the game of rugby union.
Article by Dai Llewellyn