Richard Hill has played his last game of first class rugby:
Richard Hill masks were given away outside the ground, his face was on the cover of a match programme packed with tributes and he took the field to a guard of honour as the Bristol team applauded him onto the pitch.Another of the all-time greats leaves the arena. Hill was unflashy, immensely effective and modest. But he was part of the best back row England has ever had, along with Neil Back and Lawrence Dallaglio.
The gesture was matched by the crowd, who rose as one to deliver a prolonged ovation to one of the finest players to wear the Saracens shirt.
The blindside flanker was soon doing what he always did so well, the crucial bits and pieces that enabled his team to operate efficiently. With less than a minute gone his young fly-half, Alex Goode, had nowhere to go as the Bristol defence flew up but Hill was on his shoulder to take him into contact and ensure the ball was secured.
It was similar bread and butter stuff that brought Saracens their second try. Hill popped up at scrum-half twice in the same movement after a Neil de Kock break, and with the flanker recycling possession, Noah Cato squeezed over.
UPDATE: a couple of YouTube clips. First, Will Greenwood pointing out the things people miss about experienced back row play in a recent tribute to Hill (starts about halfway through, after an interview with the man himself). Then highlights of the 2000 Wales England game in which all three of that great back row, Hill, Back and Dallaglio score (Dallaglio's try was immense, but Hill's was sheer forward skill, upper body strength to rip the ball from the opposition, positioning so he could break with the ball, speed and power to complete the score).
If you don't know rugby, at least watch the second clip.
Oh, and this one is for the American readers of this blog. I have a lot of respect for football, to the point I call our version 'soccer', but this is legal in rugby, the man has no padding and those boots have cleats. As Jonathan Davies commented "He knows he shouldn't be there, and he knows what he's going to get". That's right, he knew that, he took it, got up and played on without a murmur.
I hesitate to mention this in such company, but the rake marks on my leg from a game against the Metropolitan Police took a decade to disappear. Happy days.