Looking for some great rugby books as a gift? There's been some top literature published in the past 12 months, so here's a bundle of books worth forking out for
Best Rugby Books 2021
Star-name autobiographies perennially feature heavily in rugby publishing and there have been some crackers of late. But there’s a feast of other material available. Here are the best rugby books of 2021, and scroll further down to see top titles from 2020…
Best Rugby Books 2021
Flats and Durders: Offload, published by Simon & Schuster
Fans were up in arms when their Channel 5 Premiership highlights show went off air, but now you can enjoy Dave Flatman and Mark Durden-Smith in print. Crammed full of funny stories, below-the-belt banter and amusing observations, it’s presented in the form of a conversation, along the lines of their broadcasting double act. And it’s gold.
Read a full review of Flats And Durders Offload here.
James Haskell: Ruck Me, published by HarperCollins
Haskell’s 2020 book What a Flanker was shortlisted for the Sports Book Awards. Arguably Ruck Me is even better, shedding more light on the true person behind the jokes and bluster. “I am slightly deeper than a saucer,” he says in a sequel that again delivers some jaw-dropping stories. Mum Susie, wife Chloe and close friends are among those to chip in.
Willie Anderson: Crossing the Line, published by Reach Sport
The former Ireland captain elaborates on the extraordinary chain of events that saw him imprisoned in Argentina for stealing a flag during a 1980 Penguins tour. The tragedy of killing a boy in a car accident, and the excessive drinking that incident provoked, is another heart-wrenching subject explored in this compelling read. Ghosted by Brendan Fanning.
Mike Phillips: Half Truths, published by Reach Sport
Walesonline for one have got full value out of Phillips’s no-holds-barred revelations, with his break-up with Duffy and his scrape with a bouncer two tales related. The latter incident almost cost him a place at RWC 2011, when the scrum-half excelled as Wales came within a whisker of the final. A decorated player and a colourful character – a winning combination.
Rugby Has F***ing Laws Not Rules published by Polaris
RW readers will be familiar with Paul Williams’s online witticism and now he turns his attention in print to the nuances of rugby’s laws. For example, to subtly obstruct a potential tackler, “just think of the 6.30pm train out of London Paddington. It’s the same line you run when getting to the train doors. Head down, no eye contact and lift your elbows.” Super stuff.
Jamie Roberts: Centre Stage, published by Hodder & Stoughton
The “intriguing contradiction” that is Jamie Roberts, a 6ft 4in, 17st slab of rippling muscle who smashed into opponents for Wales and the Lions, yet a thoughtful and mild-mannered man who qualified as a doctor. The book delves into his innermost emotions and addresses the notion that his game regressed in order to fit a one-dimensional Welsh style of play.
Siya Kolisi: Rise, published by HarperCollins
The story of an icon. Kolisi’s journey from an impoverished Eastern Cape township to captaining the world champions transcends rugby. The first black Springboks captain, his immense athleticism and talent on the pitch is outshone by his unifying force off it. His charitable foundation assists countless South Africans from disadvantaged communities.
Alexander Obolensky, The Flying Prince, pub by Hodder & Stoughton
A first biography from Hugh Godwin, rugby correspondent of the i, and a fine fist he’s made of it too. Obolensky’s place in the rugby annals is assured after his two-try heroics against New Zealand in 1936. The selection of a Russian-born prince for England caused a wave of controversy, and he was to win only four caps before meeting an untimely end in WW2.
Keith Earls: Fight or Flight, published by Reach Sport
The Irish wing has always shunned the limelight and now we know why – he’s spent most of his career struggling with the stuff inside his head. Diagnosed as bipolar at 25, he remains on medication. Earls’s book, written with Tommy Conlon, also explores his turbulent upbringing and years of torment playing with a restricted lung capacity. A belting, award-winning read.
Ed Jackson: Lucky, published by HQ
How do you come to terms with an injury that leaves you paralysed and dependent on others? Ed Jackson’s life changed forever after breaking his neck in an accident in 2017. The then Dragons No 8 refused to accept medical opinion that he’d never walk again and through grit and defiance gradually began turning his life around. A truly inspirational story.
Read a full review of Lucky here.
Alun Wyn Jones: Belonging, published by Macmillan
The world’s most-capped player provides chapter and verse on his personality and the mentality that has underpinned his rugby ever since picking up a ball for the first time at Mumbles. Ghostwriter Tom Fordyce explores the psyche of the enigmatic Welsh lock whose remarkable durability and powers of recovery show no sign of abating at the age of 36.
Read a full review of Belonging here.
Sonny Bill Williams: You Can’t Stop The Sun From Shining, published by Hodder & Stoughton
The legendary All Black lifts the lid on his early days of drugs, alcohol and womanising in the 13-man code. The shock decision to quit the Bulldogs and fly to France set him on a different path and today the double World Cup winner is known for his Islamic faith and family values as much as for his stellar rugby achievements. A powerful and revealing memoir.
Read a full review of You Can’t Stop The Sun From Shining here.
Anthony Buchanan: The Buck Props Here!, published by Y Lolfa
The former Llanelli prop won only the five caps, in 1987-88, but is famed for being the last coal miner to play for Wales, spending 15 years underground – “they were happiest of my working life,” he says. Told with typical Valleys humour, ghostwriter Geraint Thomas relates Buchanan’s story, from reluctant schoolboy player to World Rugby member.
How Wales Beat The Mighty All Blacks, published by Y Lolfa
James Stafford narrates the story of Wales’ epic and controversial defeat of the 1905 All Blacks, a team so dominant on their UK tour that few gave the Welsh a prayer – even on their home turf in Cardiff. Beautifully illustrated by the author’s niece Carys Feehan, the book joins the swelling ranks of high-quality children’s sports literature.
Read a full review of How Wales Beat The Mighty All Blacks here.
Floyd Steadman: A Week One Summer, published by ASM
Steadman was a Saracens star long before their current renown, captaining them from the age of 23 in the 1980s. Life has burdened him with many challenges, such as rejection by his father, a childhood in care and the passing of his wife Denise, from cancer, in 2016. This hugely impressive man shouldered it all and became an inspiring teacher and headmaster.
Will Greenwood and Ben Fennell: World Class, published by Ebury Edge
Greenwood pairs up with an old buddy to offer a comprehensive guide to good business behaviours, citing numerous examples from his own rugby career. Areas such as teamship, pressure, selection and wellbeing are explored, and there’s a full explanation as to why the ex-England centre left Leicester – so now we know. Snappy and insightful.
Read a full review of World Class here.
Grav: The Legend of Ray Gravell, published by Y Lolfa
“It’s said that to be forgotten is to die twice. Grav will never be forgotten,” says Ollie Campbell, the great Irish stand-off. Fourteen years after the game lost one of its great characters, Ray Gravell’s life is revisited once more as friends and family tell some of the stories that made him the player and the person he was. Edited by Rhys Meirion.
James Hook: Impact, published by Polaris
Louis Rees-Zammit, Alun Wyn Jones and Jasmine Joyce are among those to endorse Hook’s follow-up to Kick-off, the children’s book that scooped a prize at this year’s Telegraph Sports Book Awards. In this new rugby adventure, young Jimmy Joseph and his friends learn about concussion, tackling, loyalty, friendship and the bravery needed to overcome your fears.
The Captain’s Run: What it Takes to Lead the All Blacks, published by HarperCollins
Gregor Paul takes a forensic eye to the role of the New Zealand captaincy, offering insights into the leadership of men like McCaw and Read, Kirk and Fitzpatrick. What does the job entail? How do they respond to success and failure? What would they have done differently if they could rewind the clock? All the answers can be found in this thorough investigation.
This Is Your Everest, published by Polaris
Published ahead of the summer Lions tour, this book by Tom English and Peter Burns has been shortlisted for the William Hill Sports Book of the Year. It covers the 1997 Lions tour, when the British and Irish squad not only achieved an astonishing victory against the world champion Springboks but were captured in a video that became the stuff of legend.
Read a full review of This Is Your Everest here.
Steve Hansen: The Legacy, published by HarperCollins
Another work by Paul, this time delving into the highs and lows of a coaching career that ultimately brought New Zealand the biggest prize on offer, the Webb Ellis Cup. Hansen’s early days, including his unexpected appointment with Wales in 2002, is covered in-depth and there are plenty of insights into the mechanics of running the world’s most famous team.
Best Rugby Books 2020
Joe Marler: Loose Head, published by Ebury Press
Just like a rugby ball, you never know which way you’ll bounce. So says the England prop whose colourful career is reflected in this rollicking book covering everything from rituals to red mist, nudity to nicknames. Ghostwriter Rachel Murphy unravels the complex character that is Marler, a player who twice retired from Test rugby and twice changed his mind.
Exe Men, published by Polaris
With immaculate timing comes the definitive history of Exeter Chiefs. Just how did they turn from cliquey meanderers in the mid-1980s to widely loved European champions in 2020? Rob Kitson boards the bus to guide us through their hightailed journey, providing fascinating biogs of key men like Tony Rowe and Rob Baxter. It won’t just be Chiefs fans who lap this up.
Read a full review of Exe Men here.
James Haskell: What a Flanker, published by HarperCollins
“There are a few basic rules to live by as a rugby player,” says the ex-England flanker. “Never trust a team-mate who doesn’t attend team socials, never trust a team-mate who doesn’t front up in a contact session, and never trust a man who showers with his pants on.” Lots of laughs amid the serious stuff from a player who could never be accused of being vanilla.
Read a full review of What a Flanker here.
Our Blood is Green, published by Polaris
The latest instalment from Polaris’s hugely popular history series on international teams. This tells the story of the Springboks in their own words – “We represent something much bigger than we can imagine,” says current captain Siya Kolisi. Dedicated to the late James Small, who was interviewed for the book, and to South African players across the decades.
James Hook: Kick-Off, published by Polaris
Welsh international James Hook, a father of three, turns his hand to children’s fiction with terrific effect. His debut novel follows a season in the life of primary school youngster Jimmy Joseph and his rugby-mad friends. Be prepared for some villainous behaviour – but will Jimmy overcome such obstacles as he chases his dream? Book one of a series.
Rob Kearney: No Hiding, published by Reach Sport
A fascinating portrait of one of Irish rugby’s most decorated players – the full-back won two Grand Slams with Ireland, four Heineken European Cups with Leinster and toured twice with the Lions. Kearney’s career didn’t always run smoothly as ghostwriter David Walsh relates. A powerful autobiography that provides insights into the man behind the legend.
Read a full review of No Hiding here.
Dylan Hartley: The Hurt, published by Viking
There will be plenty of memoirs to come that focus on the physical and psychological demands on Test players – but few as beautifully written as Hartley’s collaboration with Michael Calvin. The ex-England captain’s autobiography shows us the sport warts and all. “Rugby is great for the soul but terrible for the body,” says the 97-times capped hooker.
Read a full review of The Hurt here.
Hard Men of Rugby, published by Y Lolfa
Colin Meads or Bakkies Botha? Jerry Collins or Bobby Windsor? Luke Upton brings a favourite pub discussion to print as he tells the stories behind some of the hardest men to play our sport. Twenty worthy players are profiled although not the man whom referee Nigel Owens, who provides the foreword, says was the hardest of them all… Richie McCaw.
Read a full review of Hard Men of Rugby here.
Ken Scotland: The Autobiography, published by Polaris
Reminders of a bygone age – when Ken Scotland was in the Army, a pie and pint in the NAFFI cost seven and a half pence! The full-back cum stand-off is a top-rank Hall of Famer, starring for Scotland and the 1959 Lions, and at 84 has finally decided to shed light on his wondrous career. He shows the same delicate touch as he did on the field all those decades ago.
Read a full review of Ken Scotland’s autobiography here.
A Break in Mendoza, published by The Endless Bookcase
An inspirational read from a smaller independent publisher. Carl Igolen-Robinson tells the harrowing story of his son Luke, who broke his neck while playing in a school match in faraway Argentina. The book charts a year in Luke’s life as he tries to put his life back together. All royalties from sales go to the RFU Injured Players Foundation.
Sean O’Brien: Fuel, published by Sandycove
From Bog Lane to Brentford. Seán O’Brien explains his journey from rural County Carlow to big-city life with London Irish, along the way becoming an iconic hard man for Leinster and Ireland. And his Lions try in the first Test of 2017 is one for the ages. Funny to think that if Gaelic football was a professional sport he might never have bothered with rugby…
Facing the Haka, published by Allen & Unwin NZ
Many love it, some despise it – the haka always gets people animated. This beautifully presented book, published in partnership with NZ Rugby, explains one of sport’s most famous rituals from the perspective of those who have performed it or stared it down. “It’s an amazing experience,” says Manu Tuilagi. “It gets you pumped up watching them do it.”
Rory Best: My Autobiography, published by Hodder & Stoughton
The “shy, fat lad” come good. Rory Best didn’t get the fairytale ending to his Ireland career that he sought at Japan 2019 but what a contribution – 124 caps, 38 of them as captain, across 14 largely successful years. His gripping autobiography was one of 2020’s earlier offerings and charts the chequered fortunes of a player who quit the booze to become an Irish great.
Read a full review of Rory Best’s book here.
Mud, Maul, Mascara, published by Unbound
As the women’s game grows in standards and profile, a happy byproduct is books such as this. Catherine Spencer, who captained England to three Six Nations titles, talks about the glory years and the mental struggles she faced both as an elite athlete and a woman living an everyday life. There are a few shots fired in the RFU’s direction too.
Saving Rugby Union, published by Y Lolfa
Why did they change our game?, The Sorry Saga of the Crooked Scrum Feed and Farewell, Common Sense – three of the chapter headings that tell you where this book is going. Ross Reyburn delivers a damning verdict on the way rugby union has been run in the professional era and details the issues he believes require urgent solutions.
Running the Race, published by Christian Focus
A biography of the Scotland wing famous for winning gold at the 1924 Olympics. A Christian missionary, Eric Liddell chose to run in the 400m instead of the 100m so he didn’t have to run on a Sunday. Author John W Keddie was an adviser on the epic film Chariots of Fire and his book delves into Liddell’s sporting achievements and the faith that pushed him to excel.
Rugby Behind Barbed Wire, published by Amberley
Fifty years on, Chris Schoeman explores the Springboks’ controversial 1969-70 tour of Britain and Ireland. Played to a backdrop of heightened political tension because of apartheid, the tourists were besieged amid a series of violent demonstrations. Smoke bombs and flour bombs were a regular match-day occurrence. Many of those involved are interviewed.
Puddings, Bullies & Squashes, published by Sunnyrest Books
Britain is where its two principal football codes were given shape and discipline. The cradle for this was the 19th century public schools and Malcolm Tozer tells the story of 20 of those schools and their versions of the game. The book conveys the variety of those early codes before the nationalisation of the game by the FA from 1863 and the RFU from 1871.
A Few Wise Words, published by Amersham
Not a rugby book but included here because of a contribution from Sir Clive Woodward. Compiled by Peter Mukherjee, it features 22 stories of success and inspirational advice by the likes of Stephen Fry, Joanna Lumley and Sir Ben Ainslie. “I never lose – I either win or I learn,” says ex-England coach Woodward in a volume as apt as ever during uncertain times.
Behind The Silver Fern, published by Polaris
A new edition of Polaris’s player-told All Blacks history, compiled by Tony Johnson and Lynn McConnell. The original version came out to great acclaim in 2017. Discover who faced Australia with his arm in a sling, who withdrew from a Test side because no one would milk his cows and who kicked down the Gnoll’s changing-room door. A riveting read.
Unholy Union, published by Constable
Author Michael Aylwin, in collaboration with consultant Mark Evans, released this fascinating in-depth analysis of our sport last year – the hardback cover is pictured. The paperback edition, updated and with a new prologue, followed recently and is as searingly relevant one year on. “The rugby universe now fits in your pocket!” says Aylwin.
The Grudge, published by Polaris
How time flies – this award-winning masterpiece by Tom English first came out more than ten years ago. It stands the test of time, exploring the spite and sniping surrounding Scotland’s famous Grand Slam win against England in 1990. If you missed it first time around, get your hands on this 30th anniversary updated edition.
Read a full review of The Grudge here.
Samson Rising, published by United Writers
The inspirational story of John Hambly, a grass-roots player from Cornwall and later captain of London side Actonians. After contracting MS, he created the Samson Centre in Guildford for sufferers of this terrible disease. Dylan Hartley pens the foreword and pays warm tribute to Hambly, who won a Sport Give Back award. £1 from every sale goes to the centre.
Read a full review of Samson Rising here.
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