On a weekend when many local teams play their final league matches of another blissfully brutal, muddy and competitive rugby season, we’re having some fun by putting together the best possible team of SW talent.

The rules are simple: we are looking at players in the men’s game for this team and they must have some strong heritage in the South-West. From there, we are building a team that would be capable of taking on the best.


1 Prop
Arthur Leyland Harrison

We start in the front row and definitely the most hotly contested area of the team. It turns out we produce powerful, fearless, slightly mad rugby forwards in the South-West.

Most of our team comprises well-known rugby stars from the modern era but the battle for the number 1 jersey was between two decorated war heroes.

Just missing out on a place in the starting 15, Sir Douglas Kendrew from Barnstaple won ten caps for England and also served in the British Army in World War Two and the Korean War. Sir Douglas later served as Governor of Western Australia.

However, our first choice at prop is Arthur Leyland Harrison, the only England rugby international in history to have won the Victoria Cross, the highest awarded for gallantry in the British Armed Forces.

Born in Torquay, Harrison won two caps for England in 1914 and, during World War One, he was part of the famous Zebrugge Raid of 1918. Harrison was severely injured as he led his men on a raid to block the Zebrugge-Bruges Canal, silencing the enemy guns for those behind him to complete the mission. Harrison’s body was never recovered but his posthumously awarded VC is on display at the Royal Naval College in Dartmouth.

2 Hooker
Luke Cowan-Dickie

The all-important position of hooker also had a few contenders, with Exeter Chiefs legend Jack Yeandle and Northampton Saint Curtis Langdon, who comes from Weston-super-Mare, both in contention, but we’ve gone for Luke Cowan-Dickie to wear the number two.

Born in Truro, Cowan-Dickie represented Cornish Pirates and Plymouth Albion in his early career but was always destined to make the major breakthrough with Exeter Chiefs. Cowan-Dickie would star in the Sandy Park front row for 12 years from 2011-2023, finally ending his love affair with the Chiefs to sign for Sale Sharks at the beginning of this season.

He famously scored the opening try against Racing 92, as the Chiefs won the European Champions Cup in 2020. He has racked up 41 caps for England caps and represented the British and Irish Lions in their 2021 tour of South Africa.

3 Prop
Phil Vickery

The final place on the front row was a straight scrap between two England greats. Just missing out on the team is Plymouth-born Julian White MBE, who was known as a vicious scrummager for England and the Leicester Tigers. He also won four caps for the Lions.

However, just pipping White to the number three shirt is Phil Vickery, affectionately known as the ‘Raging Bull’.

Born in Barnstaple and the son of a dairy farmer, Vickery first started playing for Cornish club Bude and then moved to Redruth. From here, he was picked up by Gloucester Rugby, spending nine years with the club before moving to London Wasps in 2006.

Vickery won 73 caps for England and was one of only four players to start in the 2003 and 2007 World Cup Finals, the other three being Jonny Wilkinson, Jason Robinson and Ben Kay. He was part of the Lions’ tours to Australia in 2001 and South Africa in 2009.

4 Second row
Robert Dibble

Before we get on to a legend of Somerset rugby, a quick word of consolation for former Torquay Grammar School student and Taunton Titan Sam Skinner, who just missed out on a place in the second row.

However, the number four shirt goes to Robert (Bob) Dibble. Bob was born in Bridgwater in 1882 and his father, also called Robert, was manager of the local brickworks. Bob Jnr. was a powerful forward for Bridgwater RFC and became a legend of the Westcountry game.

Dibble represented Somerset for a record 72 times and made his international debut for England in a Test Match against Scotland in 1906. He won a total of 19 caps and was part of the 1908 Lions tour to New Zealand and Australia.

5 Second row
Luke Charteris

Playing alongside Dibble in the second row and wearing the number five in our elite SW team is the former Wales international Luke Charteris.

Born in Camborne, Charteris began his senior rugby career with the Newport Gwent Dragons and was selected for the Wales national team within a year of making his club debut. Prolific in the line-out, Charteris also played for Perpignan, Racing 92 and Bath.

He won 74 caps for Wales over a period of 13 years and featured in two Rugby World Cup tournaments.  

6 Flanker
Sam Simmonds

Picking up the number six shirt is Sam Simmonds, who was born in Torquay, grew up in Teignmouth and attended Ivybridge Community College.

Simmonds came through the Exeter Chiefs Academy, alongside his brother Joe, and made his professional debut in 2012. In over a decade as a Chief, Simmonds had loan spells with Plymouth Albion and Cornish Pirates.

He helped Exeter win the Gallagher Premiership for the first time in their history and then the European Champions Cup. His performances in that season led to Simmonds becoming only the seventh Englishman to be named European Player of the Year.

Simmonds has won ten England caps and now plays for Montpellier in France.

7 Flanker
Joe Launchbury

Taking the place next to Simmonds is Joe Launchbury. Although he spent most of his career in the second row, we’ve gone for Launchbury as a flanker, mainly because we want players with flexibility as part of our SW forward pack.

Launchbury played as a junior Exmouth RFC and for St John’s School in Sidmouth. Despite his East Devon credentials, Launchbury burst on to the professional scene with Wasps, where he would spend more than a decade of his career.

He won the first of 65 England caps in 2012 and it was a major surprise when he was not selected for 2013 Lions’ tour to Australia.  

8 Number 8
Richard Baxter

We complete the SW pack with another legend of Exeter Chiefs. Over the course of 16 seasons, the indomitable Richard Baxter made 431 appearances for the club and scored an impressive 126 tries.

Born in Exeter, Baxter was a major cog in the wheel as the Chiefs rose to become one of the leading clubs in Europe. Alongside his brother Rob and all the Chiefs of that era, he helped put Devon Rugby on the map and further underlined the power of SW Rugby.


9 Scrum-half
Richard Nancekivell

We move into the backs department with a scrum-half, who, while not boasting the illustrious career of many of his new team-mates, did score two of the most famous tries in the history of Cornish rugby.

Our number nine, Richard Nancekivell, played for Launceston RFC (The Cornish All Blacks) alongside his brothers Roly and Eddie. His greatest triumph came at Twickenham in 1990, when Cornwall took on Yorkshire in the County Cup Final.

It felt like most of Cornwall descended on the home of English rugby and Nancekivell scored two tries to bring his side back into the game after trailing 16-3. He effectively carried his team into extra-time and Cornwall screamed to a 29-20 victory.

10 Fly-half
Billy Burns

Playing alongside Nancekivell in the half-back role is Ireland international Billy Burns, who learned his trade at Beechen Cliff School in Bath.

Burns beat off competition from Joe Simmonds to take the number ten spot and his own brother Freddie, who played for Gloucester and the Highlanders in New Zealand.

Billy Burns was a prolific points scorer as a youngster and played for England at youth level. He graduated into the first team at Gloucester but then made the switch to Ulster. He qualified to play for Ireland through his grandfather and won seven caps in the famous green jersey,

11 Winger
Jeremy Guscott

The first winger in our team is one of classiest players ever to wear the red rose of England.

Jeremy Guscott could have easily snapped up one of the centre positions but, as you will soon discover, we are stacked in that area, so Guscott, who played on the wing plenty of times in his career, will wear the number 11.

Born in Bath, Guscott was inducted into the World Rugby Hall of Fame in 2016. He won 65 caps for England and represented the Lions on eight occasions. He spent the entirety of his club career with Bath and was regarded as a rugby player blessed with wonderful silky skills.

12 Centre
Henry Slade

Wales international Johnny Williams, who was born in Weston, just missed out on the number 12 shirt in our team of our SW greats.

We have gone for Exeter Chiefs legend Henry Slade, who was born in Plymouth and has been a leading performer at Sandy Park over the past decade. In that time, Slade has also bagged 57 international caps for England.

Slade scored a try in 2020 European Cup Final and his versatility will be pivotal across the backs in our team. He is also a superb kicker.

13 Centre
Bert Solomon

Henry Slade will be given the honour of playing in a centre partnership with a man regarded as the finest rugby player to ever come out of Cornwall.

The extraordinary Bert Solomon was born in Redruth in 1885 and was a member of the Great Britain team in the 1908 Olympic Games, which were held in London.

He helped Cornwall win the County Championship in 1908 and scored a sublime individual try on his debut for England in 1910.

Bert will wear our number 13 and his mystical status was arguably created by his decision to retire from rugby at the age of just 25. He shunned the rugby life and often had to be persuaded to turn out for Redruth, preferring instead to tend to his pigeons. When he did play, the crowd often doubled or tripled in size.

14 Winger
Jack Nowell

The number 14 in our team is another player born in Truro and another icon of the golden years at Exeter Chiefs.

Winger Jack Nowell came through the youth system with the Cornish Pirates and attended the Mounts Bay Academy near Penzance. He attended Truro College and made his debut for the Chiefs in 2012, winning the Breakthrough Player Award for the league in his first season.

Nowelll was part of the double-winning team at Sandy Park in 2020 and he has also racked up 46 caps for England, plus two appearances for the Lions. Nowell moved to La Rochelle in France last year.

15 Full-back
Matt Perry

It was a Somerset struggle for the final place in our team of SW giants. Yeovil-born Ollie Devoto is a seriously talented rugby player and could have got in the team as a full-back, fly-half or centre, but we’ve gone for Matt Perry to wear number 15.

Perry was born in Bath and attended the famed Millfield School. He spent time learning the game in South Africa but Bath was his rugby home and Perry enjoyed a wonderful decade with the club, racking up an impressive 561 points.

He also won 36 caps for England and represented the Lions on three occasions. Injury cut short his career but Perry had done enough to make our team.

Rob Baxter

This team of SW greats deserves a talented leader and our head coach is Rob Baxter, who was born in Tavistock, played for Exeter and is now Director of Rugby for the Chiefs.

What do you think of our team, who did we leave out? Please leave your comments on our social media pages or you can email them to me on tim.herbert@newsquest.co.uk

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