England centurion Dan Cole has achieved just about everything in a remarkable career which spans 16 years and counting.
One of rugby’s more colourful characters, Cole stands alone for having kept pace with the changing laws and pace of the game all while playing in a position which feels the ripples more than most.
He made his international debut in 2010 at the age of just 22 – a remarkably young age for a front-row forward – and celebrated his 100th appearance at Aviva Stadium in Round 5 of the Guinness Six Nations.
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His career is one of twists and turns which has been underpinned by a never-say-die attitude, underlined by a three-year absence from the England side before a return at the age of 35.
A British and Irish Lions’ tourist in 2013 and 2017, Cole’s record speaks for itself.
He featured in all three Tests as the Lions secured a 2-1 series victory in Australia and featured in five provincial games four years later in the epic drawn series with New Zealand.
His first taste of what it meant to be a Lion came in Perth as Warren Gatland’s side ran out 69-17 winners in their first match down under against Western Force.
Cole featured in all of the Lions’ subsequent Tour games, including each of the three Tests, the last of which was a memorable 41-16 triumph over the Green and Gold.
Gatland again put his trust in Cole for an expedition to the home of the world champions in 2017, and though he was unable to add to his tally of three Test caps he more than played his part, offering advice to newcomers Tadhg Furlong and Kyle Sinckler.
Now a Leicester Tigers legend, Cole was initially drawn towards playing for the football club of the same town.
In fact his love affair with rugby only started when he changed schools ahead of year six and failed to make the grade for the football team.
So he turned his attention to rugby and began playing for the school team as well South Leicester Rugby Football Club.
He was thrust into the back row and liked what he saw, weighing in with the crunching hits which rugby fans would later become accustomed to.
Only at the age of 16 did he first play as a tighthead, though he continued to alternate between the front and back row until he was 18 by which stage he was firmly on England’s radar.
As the game has evolved so has Cole, but his expertise at the set-piece has been a constant.
A terrific scrummager and lineout operator, he has provided Tigers, England and the Lions with a solid foundation over the years.
While he has often been seen receiving a big slap on the head from his smaller, nippier colleagues after helping his side win a scrum penalty, his work at the lineout is a little less appreciated.
He has popped up with a few important tries over the years too, most notably when England won in Paris in 2016 to secure a first Grand Slam for 13 years.
Cole’s 95th England cap proved to be his last for some time.
A difficult defeat to South Africa in the 2019 Rugby World Cup final heralded a changing of the guard from then England boss Eddie Jones.
But Cole was not to be dispirited and enjoyed something of an Indian summer with Tigers where head coach Steve Borthwick was taken aback by his determination to improve.
“As the game has changed, the nature of the game’s changed, and here’s a player changing with it,” said Borthwick, shortly after his appointment as Tigers boss.
“It’s not an easy thing to do, especially the position he plays, the skills that he has and how he has evolved physically has been really something special.
“That takes a lot of self-awareness and that’s enormous credit to him.”
Then after helping Tigers to a first Premiership title for nine years, Cole was restored to the England side, playing in each of their 2023 Guinness Six Nations matches, some 13 years after his first go at the Championship.
With four trophies and more than 300 appearances to his name as a Tigers player, Cole will forever be remembered as one of the club’s all-time greats.
He has given England and Lions fans countless memories to cherish too, whether that be his unflinching determination on the field or dead-pan responses in media interviews.
He has long been an advocate of the scrum and its value in the modern game, fitting for a man who has embraced all that it means to be a prop.
“For me it’s the best thing I’ve ever done professionally,” he said, speaking about playing in the front row in 2019.
“You are still able to do all the brilliant things around the field that everyone else can do and you have the added bonus of scrummaging, which is the best thing in the world.
“My advice to kids wanting to play in the front row would be embrace it and try as hard as you can.”