The greatest centres of all time: Jeff Butterfield
England centre Jeff Butterfield was one of the greatest centres of his time
Major teams: Northampton
Test span: 1953-59
England caps: 28 (28 starts)
Lions caps: 4 (4 starts)
Test points: 27 (8T, 1DG)
Jeff Butterfield was a stylish centre who formed a superb partnership with Phil Davies, and won a then-record of 28 consecutive England caps between his Test debut in 1953 and his final International, against Scotland, in 1959.
In between he toured South Africa with the Lions in 1955, playing in all four Tests in the drawn series, and made the trip to New Zealand in 1959, although a thigh injury meant he didn’t face the All Blacks.
Butterfield played on until 1963 with Northampton but that injury would come back to trouble him in later life when he had to have several hip replacements.
Many observers of the English game would have Butterfield in, or at least close, to the best England XV and players around him, notably Tony O’Reilly on the 1955 Lions tour and Peter Jackson, the England winger, benefited from his distribution.
It was Jackson that Butterfield set up for the last-minute try that secured England’s 9-6 win over the Australians in 1958 at Twickenham, when the home side had been reduced to 14 men after Phil Horrocks-Taylor was injured. Butterfield himself was knocked out four times in that match yet played till the last.
A Grand Slam winner in 1957, Butterfield was part of a powerful Northampton side, playing 227 times for the club and captaining Yorkshire from 1951 to 1958. At Franklin’s Gardens the wing Frank Sykes was the beneficiary of Butterfield’s brilliance and once complained to the centre: “For God’s sake, let me do a bit towards scoring some of the tries occasionally!”
A teacher by profession, Butterfield worked at Wellingborough Grammar School and Worksop College before going into the paint industry.
But rugby was his first love and he produced one of the first coaching manuals for the RFU, specialising in back play, and his pamphlets were used by the successful Lions of 1971 and 1974. He also helped develop rugby in the Cayman Islands and opened The Rugby Club in Hallam Street in London, a restaurant and bar. Butterfield died in 2004, aged 74.