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Where Sam Underhill ranks in the list of most destructive tacklers of all time

Sam Underhill sends Alex Mitchell flying backwards in the Premiership final
Sam Underhill sent Alex Mitchell flying backwards in the Premiership final - PA/David Davies

Sam Underhill’s thunderous tackling was one of the highlights of the Premiership final as the England flanker added to his highlight reel of big hits.

But where does Underhill sit in the most destructive tackles of the professional era?

10. Sam Underhill (England)

A shining light in Bath’s defeat on Saturday, Underhill reminded everyone of his willingness to whack.

It is worth remembering, too, however, that he is a supreme technical defender; his try-saver on Scott Williams at Twickenham in 2018 is an all-timer.

9. Courtney Lawes (England)

The victorious Saint, playing his final game for his club, departs these shores with his game as rounded and developed as ever. It all started, though, as a rough, tough second row at Northampton, where almost every fly-half in England would pray for their rib cages before a match.

8. Willem Alberts (South Africa)

When Alberts hit something, it stayed hit. He might not have had the dynamism or robotic churn as some of the other defenders but for pure power and naked aggression, Alberts takes some beating.

7. Levani Botia (Fiji)

At present, no one combines defensive alacrity with formidable strength like the Fijian. He will hit you again, again and again, each time with tenacious intensity. Then, as an added bonus, he’ll win the ball, too. Botia is already a legend on the French club scene.

6. Jerry Collins (New Zealand)

The late, great Collins was described by this newspaper, upon his tragic death in 2015, as “able to tackle unfortunate souls into the next postcode”. The flanker became a mainstay of the All Blacks back row just before the side embarked on a period of world domination, but his defensive legacy laid the foundations for the titles that followed.

5. Pieter-Steph du Toit (South Africa)

The Springbok has turned into one of the most devastating defenders in the modern game, both in the proliferation of his hits and in the power of them. Deservedly player of the match in last year’s World Cup final and a crucial cog in South Africa’s hegemony.

4. Jacques Burger (Namibia)

With zero regard for his own safety, Burger was one of those mad dogs who people always wanted on their side. A champion - in both Europe and England several times - with Saracens, and led his nation heroically in many an against-all-odds fixture.

3. Brian Lima (Samoa)

Pound for pound, the biggest hitter in the history of rugby and how could someone nicknamed the ‘Chiropractor’ not feature high up? The wing’s shot on Derick Hougaard at the 2003 World Cup remains one of the professional game’s most iconic meetings of shoulder and rib.

2. Trevor Leota (Samoa)

The issue, of course, is that even in the early noughties Leota did more than just flirt with illegality. So, by current standards, he’d spend most of the season on the sidelines. But if Lima was the chiropractor then Leota was the handy man: bones, muscles, organs - teeth, even. He was the man for the job.

1. Henry Tuilagi (Samoa)

Terrifyingly, Tuilagi is probably more well known for the destruction he caused with the ball than without it, and yet some of the tackles he put in are among the most vicious in the history of the sport. Just ask Ben Foden, Jamie Cudmore or anyone else who had the misfortune of running straight at him.


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