At first, poker and rugby seem to be polar opposites. One involves sitting quietly and studying cards and facial expressions, the other involves legging it up and down a pitch and slamming your weight into another hefty individual in a physical battle of strength and speed. Still, poker is quite competitive and as rugby. Poker can even get physically demanding, with one professional rugby player describing his experience of lengthy poker tournaments as ‘very, very tiring’. Some of the great rugby players of past and present have a love for poker, be it the mental or physical elements of the game. Here are a handful of the greats.
We start off with David Susigan, not because he is an especially elite rugby player, but rather out of all the rugby players, he is perhaps the most successful at poker. Susigan played mostly third-division rugby for French teams like Dijon and Castanet. Repeated shoulder and knee injuries forced him into retirement where he developed his poker skills to a professional level.
Susigan has earned over $317,653 in live poker competitions and is still cashing in major events today. His biggest win came in the EPT in Monaco in 2015 where he won the Grand Final for a cool $140,000, seeing off the final table with pocket jacks.
Affectionately known as ‘Caveman’ for his unshaven looks, Chabal is a mountain of a man and was famous throughout his rugby career for his brutish tackling. He has played the number 8 and lock position in rugby union for Bourgoin, then English team Sale Sharks and then for Racing 92. He also represented the French national side 62 times, scoring 6 tries.
Chabal participated in numerous online tournaments and shown his face at major live events, too. He carried his aggressive rugby playing style over to the poker tables, but so far, hasn’t had any major wins.
The famous retired England captain is one of the most high-profile names in the rugby world. He played outside centre for Bath and Gloucester, and currently plays for Gloucestershire division two side Minchinhampton. This guy played in 11 Six Nations Championships, saw England through the 2003 World Cup and in the same year, was in the squad for the Six Nations victory. He even married into royalty!
Mike Tindall also enjoys a game of poker, though his total winnings are not quite as impressive as his rugby achievements. Tindall participated in several no-limit Texas Hold ‘em tournaments, the most popular form of poker, but he hasn’t had too many wins. His total live earnings of a little over $5,000 include cash in a celebrity poker club series.
The Welsh winger best known for his performance as a union player for Ospreys was a figure of controversy at times, yet no one can deny that he is one of the greatest union players out there. He is fourth on the international list of union try scorers!
Shane Williams’ love for poker is evident. He recently appeared at a major two-day poker event at Principality Stadium in Cardiff, but unfortunately, was knocked out after 75 minutes. He says that he used to play on tour with rugby team Neath during long coach journeys where he would play (and usually lose) to other rugby legends like Duncan James, James Storey and Brett Sinkinson.