The greatest hookers of all time: Raphael Ibanez
Once the world’s most-capped hooker, Raphaël Ibanez lifted trophies at domestic, European and international level and was a popular and highly respected player and leader
Major teams: Dax, Perpignan, Castres, Saracens, Wasps
Test span: 1996-2007
France caps: 98 (75 starts)
Test points: 40 (8T)
He took over the France captaincy at the start of 1998 on just his third Test start and led les Blues to a Grand Slam that year. Three more Six Nations titles followed, while Ibanez also played in three World Cups, captaining his country at the 1999 and 2007 tournaments.
He concedes he had a confidence crisis after his first World Cup when new coach Bernard Laporte, seeking cool-headed discipline in place of hot-headed passion, suggested Ibanez wasn’t the type of hooker he wanted.
Ibanez got the message, not only assessing his mental approach but sharpening up in every technical area, as well as adding weight without any loss of mobility. In short, he became an even better player and if he hadn’t retired from Test rugby after RWC 2003 – only to return in 2005 – he would have exceeded a century of France caps. Only Fabien Pelous (111) and Philippe Sella (118) have more than him.
Born in Dax in the Basques region in 1973, Ibanez grew up around bull fighting and rugby, as his father Jacques played hooker for the home-town club. Ibanez played for Dax from 1991-98, then had spells at Perpignan and Castres before crossing the Channel to join Saracens after the World Cup.
In 2005 Ian McGeechan lured him to Wasps and Ibanez shared in some of the club’s greatest triumphs. There was none better than the 2007 Heineken Cup final, when Ibanez scored one try and made another through two brilliantly-worked lineout moves against Leicester.
He was named club captain but a series of concussions that autumn prompted Ibanez to retire in February 2009.
Having done some coaching with Wasps Academy while he was still playing, Ibanez has made the move into management and took up the reins at Bordeaux-Begles in 2012. He was hotly tipped to get the France coach’s job last year before Guy Noves was named instead, but his time will surely come.