Rugby Reading

I have a confession: I have not been reading as much as normal. I have been taking time out and cheating on my stack of unread books.

And the reason is simple – the Rugby World Cup. Between the games and talking about the games, my spare time has been taken up in debates on whether the Wallabies or the Irish have a better chance against the Springboks (I’m undecided) and whether New Zealand still has a good shot at the finals.

Luckily my partner, while being a proud Aussie himself and supporting the Wallabies, has been pretty patient with my relentless cheering of my home country, Ireland, although things did get somewhat tense at the game where the two countries played each other. He has been happy to watch the games with me, read the coverage and occasionally answer my questions at 1am when something really interesting occurs to me about the All Black’s strategy and generally indulge me in the massive time sink that has been the Cup so far.

At least I get to watch the matches at reasonable hours. I am the envy of my friends back home, who are 11 hours behind and have to haul their sleep-deprived carcasses from bed to the TV at 5am and 7am, keeping cheering to a minimum in case they wake the rest of the house. It’s hard to muster up the energy to hurl abuse at the ref when you’d normally be curled up in bed, dreaming of Cian Healy on his best form.

Rugby is a great game to watch but there are also plenty of books out there worth reading about it. One of the most high profile is Invictus, a dramatic retelling of the 1995 World Cup, when embattled South Africa President Nelson Mandela enlisted the rugby team to win both the cup and the hearts and minds of a country divided by apartheid.

While Invictus is one of the best known rugby books (and is certainly a great read) it’s often more concerned with politics than play, and is only one of a great many books inspired by the games and the greats (and not so greats) that have taken to the field over the years. If you have a yen to examine the Wallabies a bit more closely, you could read Greg Growden’s recently released Inside the Wallabies (am I the only person visualising the inside of a pouch?) which takes on over 100 years of play.

Slightly older but well worth a browse is Two Mighty Tribes (by commentator Gordon Bray and Spiro Zavos) which looks at 100 years of rugby matches between Australia and New Zealand. If you are still wondering what all the fuss is about, you could try Zavos’s How to Watch the Rugby World Cup instead. Plenty of time to cram that one in by Sunday, for Australia’s game against the South African Springboks.

I will be pouring over Wales’ form in the form of flicking through The Priceless Gift by Steve Lewis, an analysis of the Welsh captains who have led their team to victory and defeat since 1881, and if that turns out to be too positive for liking I may pick up Seeing Red by Alun Carter which is guaranteed to contain some dirt.  Carter was a long-time backroom man with the Wales team and catalogues both the games and political plays he saw in his 12 years working for the WRU, providing an insight into their recent form during their 2005 and 2008 Grand Slam victories.

And I would be remiss, as an Irishwoman but specifically one from Cork, if I didn’t recommend Alan English’s Stand Up and Fight – the story of a grey day in 1978 when Munster, an unrated provincial side, beat the All Blacks. The game has long since become a legend in the Irish rugby terms (the book states that more than 100,000 people claim to have seen Munster beat the All Blacks in Limerick, even though the ground could only hold 12,000) and tells the tale of the day when some of the Irish played a game far better than anyone could have dreamed they had in them.

That’s something to keep me reading – and dreaming – until Ireland vs Wales on Saturday. And good luck to the Wallabies against the Boks on Sunday. May we see you again in the finals.