Richard Hill - 2002
The honorary degree of Master of the University was conferred upon Richar Anthony Hill on 16 July 2002. The citation, read by the Pro-Vice-Chancellor, Professor L M Thomas, was as follows:
"Chancellor, Richard Hill is a flanker. Some people in this ceremony may not know much about rugby so let me try to explain. There are fifteen players in a rugby team and the big ones are called forwards, unless you're in New Zealand. They're the ones who take part in scrums, which are just like human jigsaws. First, the eight forwards on one side fit together in three rows, heads down. And the same happens in the other team. To complete the jigsaw the front two rows lock together. The ball is fed in right in the middle and the scrum then looks and performs like a crab, moving up or down the field or even 'round while everyone waits for the ball to emerge. The flankers are the players right at the back on the edges. Unless they changed the rules again.
"Now, the good news is that Richard Hill is the best flanker in the world. The bad news is that he doesn't play for Wales, or Northern Ireland, or even Scotland; he's already got 49 caps for England and I'm afraid there's a lot more to come. But the good news is that he also plays for the British Lions, brilliantly and, while he was here as a student, he helped put Borough Road on the map during three successive seasons in the first XV. The bad news is that he can't play for Brunel any more.
"But the good news is that we don't need him. Our team stormed to a nail-biting finish to win the British Universities Championship cup in December last year on its own merits. The bad news is he did spend three years here so he knows Borough Road rugby through and through. He knows every word of every rugby song, he knows all the jokes, like 'What happens to a rugby player when his eyesight starts to fail? He applies to be a referee'. And he knows exactly what happens at the odd social occasion. But you can all breathe again for the good news is he's not telling.
"And there's more good news. These are some of the things rugby pundits said about his performance for the Lions against Australia last year. This one is about the first test. 'A mention should be made of one forward in particular. Richard Hill was fabulous. Almost alone he forced Australia to commit far more players to the breakdown than the world champions wanted.' The next is about the second test and the incident that took him out for the rest of the series. 'Richard Hill, strong and reliable, heading for an influential second half when his nose was hit by a swinging elbow.' And then a whole string of them about the tour as a whole: Ieuan Evans ' It is no coincidence that the Lions won one and a half Tests with Richard Hill on the field and lost one and a half when he was not.' Eddie Butler 'The best forward on tour until he was felled by Nathan Grey. Stunning blend of athleticism and intelligence. Took all the knocks, literally, on the chin.' David Hands in the Times 'If any one player can make a difference, it is tempting to say that Hill might have done. In his five appearances, the Saracens flanker had an enormous influence with his vision, strength and pace. It is no coincidence that the Lions declined without him in the vital second international in Melbourne, the one they could have won to tie up the series.' And the Sunday Times 'Marvellously effective, he ran all the right angles and was thunderous in the tackle and on the burst. He is in the World XV for sure.' Exceptional praise, well deserved.
"And has it all gone to his head? Not at all. Jeremy Paxman has written a book in which he describes the English at the end of the Second World War as polite, unexcitable and reserved. They did their duty. Their most prized possession was a sense of honour. They were steadfast and trustworthy, a stoical, homely, quiet, disciplined, self-denying, kindly, honourable and dignified people. Paxman's thesis is that in the much more complicated world that now exists, the English aren't like that any more. He obviously hasn't met Richard Hill. He is renowned for his loyalty. And his demeanour, both on and off the field has earned him the respect of friend and foe. He never criticises his own or other players, he walks away from trouble, even when it's directed at him and those who've known him since he arrived here in 1992 say that he is the same modest, unassuming young man, now as he was then.
"Richard Hill received his first award from Brunel when he graduated in 1995 and won the IB Mac prize in recognition of his combined academic and athletic achievements. It is a real privilege today to honour him for the second time. Chancellor, I present to you Richard Anthony Hill for the degree of Master of the University, honoris causa."
MUniv July 2002