Top 20 Rugby Playing Doctors countdown: 20-11

Brendan Gallagher continues his Top 20 series by looking at the players who excelled in the medical profession as well as on the rugby pitch.

20. Che Guevara – Argentina

Medical student in Buenos Aires where, despite being an asthma sufferer, he was also a fanatical rugby head playing for no fewer than three clubs: Atalaya Polo Club, Ypora and San Isidro, or SIC as they are commonly known. He also edited a short lived rugby magazine called Tackle contributing articles under the by-line Chang-Cho. With a great great grandfather from Limerick perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised. Went on a motorcycle road trip around South America, encountered much poverty, treated those he was able and decided that henceforth he should dedicate his life to trying to challenge and change the inequalities in life.

19. Doug Smith – Scotland and Lions

Graduate in medicine from Aberdeen University, Smith spent his life as a GP but is better known in rugby circles as the unflappable manager of the 1971 Lions. At one stage he even explained away a poor early tour performance against Queensland by using the technical term for jet leg – chronic circadian dysrhythmia – which was little understood at the time. In his playing days, he represented Scotland on the wing and played one Lions Test, against Australia, in 1950.

18. Brendan Venter – South Africa

A World Cup winner with South Africa in 1995 and another all-rounder who combined GP duties in between various rugby appointments around the world. Venter always insists the discipline of medical studies was the making of him as a sportsman: “After too much partying in my first year, I just scraped through my exams. I had to decide if I really wanted to be a rugby player or a doctor. So when I returned for my second year there was a complete change in attitude, and rugby took second place. I was determined to be a good doctor and felt that I had to give my studies priority in order to achieve this. I did and then I could concentrate on my rugby again. It was a happy mix.”

17. Jamie Roberts – Wales and Lions

It is nigh on impossible to combine a rugby career with practising medicine full time in the modern era but Wales and Lions centre Jamie Roberts has come close by pursuing all his studies and post-grad qualifications while playing rugby in Wales, France, England and, for a brief period, South Africa before COVID-19 put an end to that.

He is now in the perfect position to move into his chosen field post retirement when that moment arrives.

He qualified as a doctor in 2013 and then spent two further years studying for a MPhil in Medical Science at Queen’s College Cambridge while playing for Quins.

16. Serge Simon – Bordeaux Begles and France

Dr Serge Simon was part of ferocious Bordeaux front row of Vincent Moscato and Philippe Gimbert that inflicted more pain and scar tissue on opponents than most. Captained France to victory in the 1992 World Students Cup – a precursor to the Junior World Cup – and won three caps for France before concentrating on medicine.

Founded and opened a centre in Bordeaux in 2001 to cater for addiction and psychopathology among sportsmen and women. During the Paris attacks of November 2015 he was on the scene soon after one shooting to attend many of the injured including young Lyon scrum-half Aristide Barraud. Vice president of the French Federation.

15. Ken Kennedy – Ireland and Lions

British & Irish Lions hooker Ken Kennedy
Victory: British & Irish Lions hooker Ken Kennedy and his fiance upon their return from South Africa after the invincible 1974 tour. Getty Images

A combative and skilful hooker, Kennedy studied medicine at Queens Belfast and worked at Guys and St Stephens before setting up a successful sports injury and rehabilitation clinic in Harley Street. Back on the 1974 Lions tour, when touring parties did not take doctors with them, the young Irish medic was virtually the full-time GP for the tour party as well as the reserve hooker behind Bobby Windsor. He still found time to meet and eventually marry Miss South Africa.

14. Barry O’Driscoll – Manchester and Ireland

Talented full-back for Manchester who played for Ireland in the 1971 Five Nations and represented the North West Counties in their famous win over New Zealand in 1972.

Highly regarded doctor who went on to become the IRB’s chief medical officer for eight years leading the fight for a greater awareness about concussion. Brother of Ireland and Lions flanker John, cousin of Frank who is the father of Brian.

13. Tuppy Owen Smith – England rugby, South Africa cricket

One of Wisden’s five cricketers of the year when he toured with the Boks in 1930 before returning to study medicine at Magdalen College, Oxford and St Mary’s Hospital, at which point he concentrated mainly on rugby although he also found time to win boxing and athletics Blues.

A superb attacking full-back, Owen Smith captained England in the 1937 Four Nations – France had been temporarily suspended. On returning home, he devoted his life to serving as a GP in the Rondebosch region.

12. Earnest Deane – Ireland

Ireland international who studied at the Royal College of Surgeons in Dublin before his career was cut short with a badly broken leg playing for Monkstown against Oxford University.

Commissioned to Royal Army Medical Corp in 1911. During World War 1 treated the wounded at the Battles of La Bassée, Messines, Armentières, Neuve Chapelle, Aubers Ridge, Festubert and Loos where he was killed on September 22, 1915. A few days earlier he had been awarded his MC for conspicuous gallantry on August 22, 1915, near Fauquissart when, under enemy fire, he helped rescue and treat four wounded soldiers in no-man’s-land.

11. Jonathan Webb – Bristol, Bath and England

Classy full-back who leapfrogged over Simon Hodgkinson to become the England 15 for RWC1991 and then the following year when Will Carling’s side secured perhaps the most impressive of their Grand Slams. Studied medicine at Bristol University and moved into sports medicine, specialising in keyhole surgery and knee ligament reconstruction. Now runs the Fortius clinic for sports injuries in London.

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