A Leicester Tigers and England stalwart who also toured twice with the British & Irish Lions, Graham Rowntree has enjoyed a substantial Championship impact both on the pitch and in the dugout.
His 11-year international playing career spanned the Five and Six Nations eras and the prop played his part in four Championship-winning England sides during a glittering period for the Red Rose.
Competition for places in the England pack was particularly fierce around the turn of the century – particularly for Rowntree, who was competing with Jason Leonard – but he fought his way back in to contention following a spell out the picture and proved a reliable presence across his 54 caps.
He has since moved seamlessly into coaching and passed on his wisdom to the next generation of England forwards during his eight-year spell as forwards coach which included a Championship triumph in 2011.
To celebrate the Six Nations’ 20th anniversary, you can create your Greatest XV on the Guinness Six Nations app and choose from more than 150 players, including Graham Rowntree.
Born in Stockton-on-Tees, Rowntree was schooled in Leicestershire and became part of the conveyor belt of talent on the well-trodden path from John Cleveland College in Hinckley to Leicester Tigers, who he joined from Nuneaton in 1988.
Dean Richards and, more recently, Manu Tuilagi are among the college’s other rugby alumni and Rowntree made the most of his opportunity with the Tigers following his debut in 1990.
He made up one-third of the notorious ‘ABC Club’ alongside front-row partners Richard Cockerill and Darren Garforth – the name stemming from the letters they wore on the backs of their shirts before they were later replaced by numbers.
Rowntree made his England ‘A’ debut in 1993, a year which also saw him represent Barbarians for the first time, and he did not have to wait too much longer for his first senior cap.
The prop could not have asked for a much bigger occasion on which to make his England bow.
Calcutta Cup matches at Twickenham are landmark days whatever the scenario, but the 1995 clash was a Grand Slam decider with the Championship on the line.
Rowntree was introduced from the bench as England won 24-12, Rob Andrew kicking all the victors’ points, to seal a third Grand Slam of the decade for the hosts.
England topped the table again the following year to secure back-to-back Championships, with Rowntree an ever-present in 1996 as the side captained by Will Carling bounced back from an opening round defeat in Paris to win three on the spin and edge out Scotland on points difference.
A French Grand Slam denied England a hat-trick of titles but Rowntree again started all four Championship matches in 1997 and received his first Lions call-up for the tour of South Africa that summer.
Rowntree made regular appearances for the midweek side but didn’t earn a Test cap and missed out on selection for the final two Five Nations Championships.
He did, however, make the England squad for the 1999 World Cup and added three appearances to the two he had made in 1995.
Rowntree was overlooked by Clive Woodward in the aftermath of the 1999 World Cup and England’s loss proved Leicester’s gain.
The Tigers won four Premiership titles on the bounce between 1999 and 2002 and took their domestic dominance on to the continent, winning the first of two consecutive European Cups with a thrilling 34-30 win over Stade Francais in the 2000/01 final.
Rowntree was a key part of the Leicester pack throughout their glory years and he played his way back into international contention, making his England comeback in the tour of North America in June 2001 – nearly two years after his previous appearance.
His first Six Nations appearance (Italy having joined the Championship in 2000) came at Lansdowne Road in October 2001 as Ireland ended England’s hopes of a Grand Slam, though the visitors did still finish top of the table for the second successive year.
Rowntree’s superb performances in the Autumn Internationals which followed ensured he became an international regular once more and he started all five of England’s 2002 Six Nations matches.
He appeared in every Championship game the following spring as Woodward’s side won a Grand Slam and played a key role in a famous 15-13 triumph in New Zealand later in 2003.
But despite those displays, Rowntree missed out on selection for England’s victorious 2003 World Cup squad – a decision Woodward subsequently revealed was the hardest he ever made as a coach.
World Cup omission stung, particularly in light of England’s triumph – so it speaks volumes for Rowntree’s character that he bounced back to win nine more England caps, as well as three for the Lions on the 2005 tour of New Zealand.
His final Six Nations campaign came in 2005 and he retired two years later having helped Leicester to yet another Premiership title.
Rowntree’s move into coaching has seen him enjoy roles with Leicester, England, Harlequins and Georgia, while he has also been the Lions’ forwards coach on each of the past two tours.
The 49-year-old is currently in the same role with Munster in the Guinness PRO14, a position he has held since the end of the 2019 World Cup, and will hope to add a third Lions tour to his coaching CV in South Africa next summer.