The world of rugby was again saddened this morning when the news came over that the great Irish and British Lion Willie Duggan had died. Duggan’s death follows the recent passing of the former All Black captain Sir Colin Meads.
William Patrick Duggan was widely regarded as one of Ireland’s best players; he made 41 appearances for Ireland between 1975 and 1984. He toured New Zealand with the British and Irish Lions in 1977, playing in all four Tests as the All Blacks won the series 3-1. Duggan also represented that great club Blackrock College.
Irish Rugby wrote on Twitter: “Sad news today that Ireland legend Willie Duggan has passed away. Our thoughts & prayers are with his family & friends. May he rest in peace.”
Leinster Rugby, his former province, wrote on Twitter: “Very sad news from Kilkenny this morning of the passing of Leinster & Ireland Rugby legend Willie Duggan. Ar dheis De go raibh a anam. #RIP.”
On the pitch, Duggan was widely regarded as the premier No. 8 in Europe at the time, which was reflected in his being picked for the Lions in 1977. He was widely regarded as one of the hard men of world rugby at the time, despite not enjoying training and being a heavy smoker. On one occasion he was smoking a cigarette as he ran onto the pitch to play against France, passing the cigarette to referee Allen Hosie, who was pictured holding the cigarette in the television coverage. Told by a coach that if he gave up the smokes he would be faster around the pitch, he replied “but then I would spend most of the match offside”.
He was, along with Wales’ Geoff Wheel, the first player to be sent off in a Five Nations match in 1977. Both men were sent off by referee Norman Sanson for fighting following a lineout during the game at Cardiff Arms Park.
Wheel recalled some time later in The Irish Independent: “I wasn’t involved with Willie Duggan at all. I didn’t even see what he was supposed to have done. We even had a bit of a laugh about it on the sideline. “We definitely got the best of it. He was having a really good game at the back of the line-out. Willie was a great character and an exceptionally good player.
In 1983 France visited Lansdown road for the game against Ireland in the old Five nations competition. Willie Duggan was selected to play in the number 8 position. Facing Ireland that day in the French tean was Jean Condom, a large and imposing lock forward. When the teams ran out on to the field a large banner was seen behind the posts. Written on the banner was the immortal line “our big Willie is bigger than your Condom”. Stories abound that both players, with arms around each other, laughed uproariously at the post-match dinner.
Whilst Duggan was all business on the field he never lost sight of rugby’s great social side. He was a firm believer in playing hard and then putting his arm around an opponent at the final whistle and saying “great game, let’s go for a pint”.
William Patrick Duggan was born on 12 March 1950 in the town of Kilkenny. After he retired from rugby he latterly ran Willie Duggan Lighting Ltd based in Kilkenny. He died in the same town of his birth aged 67, one of the most revered and loved rugby players in the history of the Irish game.