HIS BOOK was initially rejected by 30 UK publishers, so do we condemn them for failing to spot a masterpiece or praise them for belatedly giving it the platform it deserves? First published in France under the title Top 14, Awa Press in New Zealand then published 2,000 copies in late 2007 and lapped up the acclaim. Now Ebury in London have taken up the baton, bringing John Daniell’s part-humorous, part-shocking insights into French professional rugby to a new audience.
Daniell, a Kiwi lock, arrived in France as a 25-year-old in 1997 and was astonished by the violence in the game. In his first outing, a B game in Dijon, he looked on quizzically as his team-mates put on cricket boxes, then reeled as the first lineout saw his nose broken by a punch. There followed a “street fight” in which players and spectators waded in with fists, umbrellas and gumboots – welcome to France!
At any given time, 100 or so of France’s 600 professional players are out injured. Not all injuries are sustained on the pitch. One club allegedly turned out the lights in the corridor just as the teams were lining up to go out, so they could launch a surprise attack under cover of darkness. Toulon would kick out on the full so they could come back for the scrum and ‘lay down the law’. Gregor Townsend recalls how he and his fellow Brive centre were trampled on by the forwards as they weren’t “sufficiently enthusiastic” about the game that was to follow.
The brutality (and we’ve not even got to eye-gouging) is just one of many topics that Daniell lifts the lid on as he builds the book around Montpellier’s roller-coaster ride through a Top 14 season.
RW RATING 5/5
BUY IT FROM: www.rbooks.co.uk RRP: £7.99 Published by: Ebury
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This article appeared in the June 2009 issue of Rugby World Magazine
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