The greatest opensides of all time: Peter Winterbottom
Peter Winterbottom was one of the greatest opensides to ever play the game, the Englishman started in every Test match he appeared in
Major teams: Headingley, Harlequins, Hawke’s Bay, Transvaal
Test span: 1982-93
England caps: 58 (58 starts)
Lions caps: 7 (7 starts)
Test points: 13 (3T)
In one of Stuart Lancaster’s first games as England coach, he invited Peter Winterbottom to present the players with their jerseys. Few of them, even the oldest guy in the team, Geoff Parling, knew who Winterbottom was.
That will seem extraordinary to those who watched the Yorkshireman in the 1980s and early 1990s, when he competed with Michael Jones for the unofficial title of world’s best openside.
Nicknamed Straw Man because of his thatch of blond hair, Winterbottom was the jewel in Headingley’s crown, combining his rugby with working on his uncle’s farm near Otley.
He was a ferocious tackler, hitting hard and often dislodging the ball, and the tougher the battle, the more he relished it. “In my position you’re there to make tackles,” he said. “You can’t afford to miss or shirk any.”
Even as a young lad, Winterbottom aspired to play for England and to fast-track his development in 1982 he spent a season playing in the rough-and-tough of New Zealand club rugby for Hawke’s Bay. Later, he turned out for Transvaal.
His England debut came against Australia, in the match made famous for Erica Roe’s topless pitch walk, and by the time he bowed out in 1993 he had become only the second England player to reach 50 caps and his country’s most capped openside, until Neil Back surpassed him in 2003.
By then he had turned from farmer to financier, having joined Harlequins and become a London stockbroker. In return for work colleagues covering his rugby-enforced absences, he would give them his match allocation of ten England tickets.
His greatest rugby was reserved for the punishing fields of New Zealand, where he toured with the Lions ten years apart. He started all seven of those Tests (1983 and 1993) and the Kiwis said they would be proud to call him one of their own. Dick Best, a Lions coach, was equally enamoured. “Winters,” he said, “is carved out of stone.”
Winterbottom quit the City three years ago to launch a marketing company and he has a new sporting passion, cycling.