Greatest XV Profile: Jason Leonard

As England’s record appearance-maker, a World Cup winner and a four-time Grand Slam champion, there are few names more synonymous with the Red Rose than Jason Leonard.

As England’s record appearance-maker, a World Cup winner and a four-time Grand Slam champion, there are few names more synonymous with the Red Rose than Jason Leonard.

The prop forward won everything there is to win on the international scene in a 14-year career during which he earned 114 Test caps for his country – once a world record.

On top of making 54 Six Nations appearances and featuring at four Rugby World Cups, Leonard represented the British & Irish Lions on three tours, and played nearly 300 games for club side Harlequins, successfully straddling both the amateur and professional eras.

Having played a prominent role in one of the most successful periods for England Rugby, the now 52-year-old is rightly considered one of the greats to have pulled on the famous white jersey, and he was indeed inducted into the World Rugby Hall of Fame in 2014.

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 Leonard

As a former RFU President and a current board member for both Guinness Six Nations and the British & Irish Lions, Leonard’s influence on the game is still rife, and for his playing qualities – which included an ability to play both the loose-head and tight-head positons – he is undoubtedly a worthy contender for the Greatest XV.


Having attended a largely football-playing school in East London, Leonard made the somewhat unusual voyage into rugby by joining local club Barking aged 14, where he played a key role in the under-19 team’s Essex Cup-winning campaign just a year later.

Going on to make his first-team debut shortly afterwards, it wasn’t long before Leonard – who trained as a carpenter – was snapped up by Saracens, before moving across London to Harlequins a year later in 1990.

Full international honours came Leonard’s way that same year, and he became England’s youngest ever front-rower on his debut aged 22 against Argentina in Buenos Aires, establishing himself as a key Test player in a hostile Argentinian environment.

Leonard’s rapid rise continued and four starts in his maiden Five Nations campaign in 1991 yielded Grand Slam success, while he made six appearances at that year’s Rugby World Cup as England fell at the final hurdle, 12-6 to rivals Australia.


Despite describing that final as one of his career’s lowest points, it wasn’t long before Leonard was tasting success once again, with Geoff Cooke’s men sealing successive Grand Slam titles and the fearsome prop again starting every game.

In the 1992 series’ last match against Wales, Leonard suffered a career-threatening neck injury which aired concerns over his future, but in typical warrior-like fashion he was back on the field that Autumn, and ready to achieve the next accolade in his career.

Leonard made two appearances as Ian McGeechan’s Lions fell 2-1 on their tour of New Zealand in 1993, but enjoyed a return to success with England just two years later – on an individual and team basis.

Despite new boss Jack Rowell ringing the changes in the England squad ahead of the 1995 Five Nations Championship, stalwart Leonard held on to his place, winning a record 38th cap for a prop in the Grand Slam clincher against Scotland at Twickenham.


With three Grand Slams in the bank by the age of 26, Leonard remained at the top of the game for the remainder of his career, quelling his previous shortcomings before eventually hanging up his boots in 2004.

Leonard skippered England for the first time in November 1996 – aptly against his debut opponents Argentina – in a game he notched his only-ever international try, while a year later he featured in the Lions series win on their tour of South Africa.

World Cup success again eluded Leonard and England in 1995 and 1999, but following his fourth Grand Slam title in 2003, the ‘Fun Bus’ played seven matches as Clive Woodward’s side lifted the Webb Ellis Cup for the first time, beating Australia in the final in their own back yard.

A replacement appearance against Italy the following January completed an international career of 119 appearances – including 114 for England – ensuring he will forever be remembered as one of the greats of English, and indeed world, rugby union.