Ben Cohen (rugby union)

Ben Cohen MBE
Ben Cohen 2011.jpg
Birth name Ben Christopher Cohen
Date of birth (1978-09-14) 14 September 1978 (age 43)
Place of birth Northampton, Northamptonshire, England
Height 1.88 m (6 ft 2 in)
Weight 227 lb (103 kg; 16.2 st)
Notable relative(s) George Cohen
Abby Blayney
(m. 2003; div. 2016)
Children 3
Rugby union career
Position(s) Wing, Outside Centre
Youth career
  Northampton Old Scouts RFC
Senior career
Years Team Apps (Points)
Sale Sharks
National team(s)
Years Team Apps (Points)
2000–2006 England 57 (155)

Ben Christopher Cohen,[1] MBE (born 14 September 1978) is an English activist and former rugby player. He began his professional career with Northampton Saints in 1996; in 2007 he moved to France to represent Brive before returning to England two years later to join Sale Sharks. Cohen was also a member of the England team that won the 2003 Rugby World Cup. His main position was winger. In May 2011, Cohen retired from professional rugby. He founded The Ben Cohen StandUp Foundation to combat homophobia and bullying.


Cohen was born in Northampton.[2] He was educated at Kingsthorpe Upper School. (Kingsthorpe College as known today) This was not a rugby playing school and at age 12 he first started playing with Northampton Old Scouts RFC.

Regarding his background, Cohen has stated, "My family's not Jewish, but a few generations back they used to be. I think it was my great-grandfather that married a non-Jewish girl and broke with tradition."[3]

In November 2000, Cohen's father Peter Cohen, brother of English World Cup winning football player George Cohen, was fatally injured while protecting an attack victim[4] at the Eternity nightclub in Northampton, which he managed. He died a month later from head injuries sustained in the assault.[5] Three men were found guilty of violent conduct.

Cohen was married to Abby Blayney, with twin daughters Harriette and Isabelle (born 2008).[6] He is clinically deaf, with about 30 to 33 percent hearing loss in each ear,[7][8] and has been involved in efforts to make rugby more accessible to the hard of hearing, especially young deaf players.[9]

During March 2011 High and Mighty, the big and tall menswear specialist, appointed Cohen as the new face of the brand for 2011.[10]


When he was 17 he joined Northampton Saints and made his first team debut against Treorchy in the 1996/97 season, following which his name was rarely left off the team sheet. Cohen had long been linked with a move away from the club.[11][12][13] Whilst at Northampton he started in the victorious 2000 Heineken Cup Final as they defeated Munster.[14]


Following his release from contract from Northampton RFC in 2007,[13] Cohen had been linked with midlands rivals Leicester Tigers, other English and French rugby union clubs[15] and a switch of codes to rugby league at Harlequins or Wigan.[16] His future had remained uncertain after he failed to join a Guinness Premiership club, several games into the season. He was selected for the Barbarians, appearing in the game wearing the socks of his first club, Northampton Old Scouts RFC.[17] It was rumoured of a move to Harlequins RL with then chairman Ian Lenagan supposedly talking to Cohen over recent months, however nothing official was ever announced and he shortly afterwards signed for Brive.

Cohen signed a deal with Brive who play in the Top 14 competition in France. Fellow 2003 World Cup-winning and Northampton Saints teammate Steve Thompson was also at the club.[18] He signed a contract until 2009.[19] Cohen's move to the Limousin based club came after Cohen had stated "I won't be moving house."[19]

Sale Sharks

In March 2009, Sale Sharks announced the signing of Cohen from Brive on a two-year contract. The move was called a "coup" by Sale's director of rugby, Kingsley Jones. At the time Cohen believed that he could make a return to international rugby through representing Sale.[20] Unable to participate in Sale's pre-season warm-up matches for the 2009/10 season, Cohen made his competitive debut for Sale in September 2009 in a Guinness Premiership fixture against Exeter.[21] The following month, Cohen scored his first try for Sale in a 36–17 defeat to Toulouse in the Heineken Cup.[22] Cohen is one of the club's senior players and plays a role in developing Sale's young players. In September 2010 he noted that "I'm coming towards the end of my career and I've learnt a hell of a lot over the course of my career from some of the best coaches in the world. I think you've got to pass some of that experience down ... You have to have that blend of experience and youth and helping the younger guys out is something that I enjoy doing anyway."[23] In late December, Cohen picked up a knee injury during Sale's 54–21 defeat to Leicester the side-lined him for six to eight weeks.[24] It was announced in March that Cohen's contract with Sale would not be renewed and he would be leaving the club at the end of the season. He commented that "Sale don't want me anymore because they're trying to spend more money in the pack".[25] Cohen, who represented Sale in over 50 matches, also said that if he could not secure a contract with a Premiership club he would consider retiring.[25] On 15 May 2011 Cohen announced his retirement from the sport to focus on his anti-bullying campaign.[26]

Representative career

In the list of all time England try scorers Cohen sits third behind Rory Underwood and Will Greenwood .

In February 2000, Cohen made his England debut against Ireland in the inaugural Six Nations Championship, scoring two tries.[27] In June 2001, he joined the Lions tour to Australia, and although he did not figure in the Tests series he did score twice in the midweek match against New South Wales Country Cockatoos at Coffs Harbour.

During the 2002–03 season he played in all of England's matches, scoring against the All Blacks and putting in a try-saving tackle on Ben Blair,[28] he scored twice against the Australians at Twickenham.[29] He also scored against Australia in June 2003 as England won by 25–14, to complete their southern hemisphere tour unbeaten.[30] In England's successful World Cup campaign he started in all but one of England's matches.

In the 2004 Six Nations Cohen was named man of the match against Wales, partly for two striking tries. He was a replacement in two of England's 2004 Autumn internationals.

Cohen initially endured a difficult time after helping England lift the World Cup, admitting that he had lost his appetite for the game[31] and he did not feature in the 2005 Six Nations Championship. However, strong club form saw him win a try-scoring recall against Australia in November 2005. He stayed among the England setup throughout 2006 and during the Autumn internationals, but missed out on the Elite England squad for the 2007 Six Nations.

He regained a place in the squad for the summer tour of South Africa and raised the prospects for the 2007 Rugby World Cup. However, in May 2007 Cohen ruled himself out of both England's summer tour and the World Cup, stating that he wished to spend time with his pregnant wife.[31]

The Ben Cohen StandUp Foundation

In 2011, Cohen founded The Ben Cohen StandUp Foundation, Inc., which is, according to its website, "the world's first foundation dedicated to raising awareness of the long-term, damaging effects of bullying, and funding those doing real-world work to stop it".

Following his retirement he announced plans to focus on the Foundation.[26][32]

Personal life

Cohen was married to Abby Blayney in 2003, and they had twin daughters[33] The couple have been estranged since 2014, and divorced in March 2016.[34] In January 2016, it was announced that his former Strictly Come Dancing dance partner and now girlfriend, Kristina Rihanoff had given birth to their first child together, a daughter named Milena.

Status as a gay icon

Ben appeared on the cover of Compete Magazine July 2011 issue[35] and the cover of Out in August 2011.[36]

On 18 June 2013, Ben Cohen was named as one of the initial inductees to the National Gay and Lesbian Sports Hall of Fame newly established in Chicago, Illinois.[37]

In 2010, Cohen donated a signed jockstrap to support GMFA, a British charity addressing gay men's health issues, which was sold at auction at the Royal Vauxhall Tavern.[38] He also featured on the front cover and in an interview section of GMFA's printed FS Magazine in November 2010.[39]

Cohen founded The Ben Cohen StandUp Foundation to combat bullying, and he has specifically noted homophobia as one of the bullying problems on the StandUp agenda.[40][41]

TV appearances

In September 2013, Cohen took part as a contestant in the eleventh series of Strictly Come Dancing. He was partnered with Russian professional dancer Kristina Rihanoff. The couple were later eliminated from the competition, landing in eighth place. Cohen and Rihanoff later had a daughter together, in early 2016.[42]

In January 2016, Cohen took part as a contestant on the third series of The Jump, as a replacement for Mark-Francis Vandelli. He later won the series on 6 March 2016, beating Dean Cain.

In 2017, Cohen was a contestant on season 7, episode 8 of The Celebrity Chase.

In January 2018, Ben participated in And They're Off! in aid of Sport Relief.

See also


  1. ^
  2. ^ "Ben Cohen". IMDb. Retrieved 25 February 2020.
  3. ^ Westbrook, Caroline. "Ben Cohen". Something Jewish. JMT Ventures. Retrieved 11 September 2013.
  4. ^ Equality magazine Summer 2011, article "Rugby Superstar Ben Cohen Takes a Stand", p. 23
  5. ^ Lashmar, Paul (15 November 2000). "Father of rugby star dies after club attack brawl fight in". The Independent. Retrieved 11 September 2013.
  6. ^ "Rugby star Ben Cohen on being a first-time dad". News of the World. Archived from the original on 30 July 2008. Retrieved 4 August 2008.
  7. ^ Pep, Steve. "Towleroad Interview: Ben Cohen". Towleroad. Retrieved 11 September 2013.
  8. ^ Nolan, Ty (May 2011). "Pitching for Acceptance: Gay Icon Ben Cohen Preps for May U.S. Tour". Compete Magazine. Archived from the original on 14 May 2013. Retrieved 11 September 2013.
  9. ^ Godwin, Hugh (28 February 2010). "Clinically deaf Cohen signs up to help hard of hearing". The Independent. Retrieved 22 July 2010.
  10. ^ PR for Ben Cohen MBE teaming up with High and Mighty released 18 March 2011
  11. ^ "Saints confirm Cohen speculation". Northampton Saints. 22 August 2007. Archived from the original on 28 September 2007. Retrieved 22 August 2007.
  12. ^ "Cohen on strike after captaincy snub". Sportinglife. 22 August 2007. Archived from the original on 27 September 2007. Retrieved 23 August 2007.
  13. ^ a b Rees, Paul (23 August 2007). "Stayaway Cohen nears Northampton exit". The Guardian. Archived from the original on 25 August 2007. Retrieved 23 August 2007.
  14. ^ "Saints secure historic victory". BBC. 27 May 2000. Retrieved 7 September 2014.
  15. ^ "Ben Cohen net worth". Retrieved 25 February 2020.
  16. ^ "Cohen heads for Tigers?". Sky Sports. 29 November 2007. Retrieved 29 November 2007.
  17. ^ "Barbarians v South Africa (Sat)". BBC. 28 November 2007. Archived from the original on 28 November 2007. Retrieved 29 November 2007.
  18. ^ "Cohen's French revolution". Sky Sports. 5 December 2007. Retrieved 5 December 2007.
  19. ^ a b "Cohen's French revolution". BBC Sport. 5 December 2007. Archived from the original on 1 December 2007. Retrieved 5 December 2007.
  20. ^ "Wing Cohen to quit Brive for Sale". BBC Sport. 18 March 2009. Retrieved 7 March 2011.
  21. ^ Leigh, Neil (2 September 2009). "Cohen raring to go for Sale". Manchester Evening News. Retrieved 30 November 2010.
  22. ^ Leigh, Neil (11 October 2009). "Toulouse 36 Sale 17". Manchester Evening News. Retrieved 30 November 2010.
  23. ^ Leigh, Neil (22 September 2010). "Big Ben Cohen strikes winning note for Sale". Manchester Evening News. Retrieved 30 November 2010.
  24. ^ "Anglesea hopes Sale Sharks can find their bite". Manchester Evening News. 31 December 2010. Archived from the original on 3 January 2011. Retrieved 2 January 2011.
  25. ^ a b "Ben Cohen to consider retirement after Sale Sharks exit". BBC Sport. 3 March 2011. Retrieved 7 March 2011.
  26. ^ a b Lowe, Alex (16 May 2011). "Cohen retires to tackle bullying and homophobia". The Independent. Retrieved 20 May 2011.
  27. ^ "England off to record start". BBC. Retrieved 9 December 2020.
  28. ^ "England survive All Blacks scare". BBC. 9 November 2002. Retrieved 9 December 2020.
  29. ^ "England stun Aussies". BBC. 16 November 2002. Retrieved 9 December 2020.
  30. ^ "England clinch historic victory". BBC. 21 June 2003. Retrieved 9 December 2020.
  31. ^ a b ESPNscrum staff (29 October 2010). "England's Heroes: Where are they now?". Archived from the original on 11 November 2010. Retrieved 2 December 2010.
  32. ^ "Rugby Player Ben Cohen on Ditch the Label". Ditch the Label. 19 August 2013. Archived from the original on 2 October 2013. Retrieved 11 September 2013.
  33. ^ Fay Strang (29 December 2014). "Ben Cohen's broken wife: Abigail spends first Christmas alone after teenage romance was soured by Strictly". mirror.
  34. ^ Danny Boyle (31 March 2016). "Ben Cohen is divorced by wife as he expects baby with Strictly Come Dancing star". Daily Telegraph. Retrieved 31 March 2016.
  35. ^ Athlete Ally: Rugger Ben Cohen Archived 14 May 2013 at the Wayback Machine
  36. ^ Ben Cohen: "Gay People Assume I'm in the Closet Archived 24 April 2012 at the Wayback Machine 12 July 2011
  37. ^ "National Gay & Lesbian Sports Hall of Fame's Inaugural Class Announced" by Matthew Breen, published online for Out Magazine, accessed 18 June 2013:
  38. ^ "Ben Cohens Jock Strap Benefits Gays". 3 September 2010. Retrieved 11 March 2021.
  39. ^ "FS120-LON".
  40. ^ "A Star Athlete Makes a Big Move Off the Field" by David Colman, published in the New York Times online 22 June 2012, accessed 8 July 2013:
  41. ^ Jenny says (19 August 2013). "Ben Cohen on Ditch the Label, Bullying, Gay Issues and Being Part Deaf". Archived from the original on 19 August 2013. Retrieved 28 September 2013.
  42. ^ Ben Cohen charlestons out of Strictly Come Dancing: Radio Times 8 December 2013

External links