A look at the six rugby titles shortlisted by the Sunday Times Sports Book Awards
Nominees for Rugby Book of the Year
The Sunday Times Sports Book Awards showcase the cream of sports writing and publishing. The Best Rugby Book category was introduced in 2008 and is judged by a panel of journalists from the Rugby Union Writers’ Club.
Andy Ripley was the inaugural winner, while last year saw Hugh Godwin and Hodder & Stoughton collect the award for their biography of the legendary Alexander Obolensky.
Mark Pougatch will host the 21st Sports Book Awards, which will take place at The Kia Oval on the evening of Wednesday 24 May. Bat For A Chance will be this year’s charity of choice.
There are 11 categories, including a new award for New Women’s Sports Writing. The rugby shortlist is drawn from books published in Britain and Ireland during 2022.
Here, we assess the contenders for Rugby Book of the Year, which is awarded in association with Francis Clark Financial Planning. The six nominated books are as follows…
Ian McKinley: Second Sight, Reach Sport, RRP £16.99
The astonishing story of the man who played Test rugby for Italy despite being blind in one eye. McKinley’s life changed forever after a clumsy UCD team-mate burst his left eyeball at a ruck in an AIL Division Two clash in 2010. Starting a new life in Italy, the former Leinster and Ireland U20 player was consumed by negativity over his lost career.
But he turned his life around, establishing pioneering protective eyewear and using it to ascend to international rugby. Today there are thousands able to play rugby with specialist goggles thanks to McKinley’s drive. “He’s an inspiration and a trailblazer,” writes Johnny Sexton in the foreword to a book that is ghosted by Gerry Thornley of The Irish Times.
Mark Jones: Fighting to Speak, St David’s Press, RRP £13.99
Jones featured in a BBC documentary about stammering and he spells out its impact on him at the very start of his rattling good book. “My stammer led to a deep emotional pain and a psychological self-loathing that manifested itself in hate and aggression when I played rugby,” says the former Wales No 8.
A dual code international in the late amateur era, Jones was sent off six times and his book is packed with unsavoury incidents from both on the pitch and off it. He underwent speech therapy, as well as anger management sessions with Steve Black, and today lives in Qatar with his troubles far behind him. Anthony Bunko is the ghostwriter.
Scrum Queens, Pitch Publishing, RRP £18.99
Books on women’s rugby have been scarce down the years but this is one of two shortlisted, with last autumn’s Women’s World Cup a publishing opportunity not to be missed. It’s “the book that had to be written”, according to The Sunday Times’ Stephen Jones, and charts in terrific detail the story of women’s rugby from its earliest days in the 19th century.
Author and scrumqueens.com founder Ali Donnelly, who first played at Midleton in Cork as a 15-year-old, is old enough to have experienced the once strident and widespread opposition to women’s rugby. That we have such a different landscape today is down to her and many other selfless devotees of the sport.
Steve Hansen: The Legacy by Gregor Paul, HarperCollins, RRP £20
A slight delay in delivery led to this biography of Hansen creeping into the 2022 time frame from which this shortlist is compiled.
Author Paul, from the New Zealand Herald, provides an intimate portrait of the man who became head coach of the world champion All Blacks in December 2011 and set about making them the most dominant team in rugby history. Hansen bowed out with 93 wins from 107 Tests as head coach and the highest win percentage (87%) of anyone in the hallowed role.
Although Hansen kept himself at arm’s length from this project, Paul’s vast knowledge of the man from countless interviews grants us fascinating insights into elite-level sports coaching.
Steve Thompson: Unforgettable, Blink Publishing, RRP £20
Thompson is no limelight lover – he’d rather be fishing on the canal or playing in the garden with his kids – but he has become synonymous with the high-profile legal action by former players with early onset dementia.
The English World Cup winner likens his brain to Etch A Sketch – when you shook it to make the picture disappear, you could still faintly see its outline. He can be unsure whether something is a memory or whether he just read it or heard it. For his book, ghosted by John Woodhouse, he sat down with former team-mates to ‘reconstruct’ the 2003 World Cup.
That’s the tip of the iceberg – there is a whole lot of more harrowing stuff in Unforgettable, a book that has raised awareness of dementia in an immensely powerful way.
World in their Hands, Polaris Publishing, RRP £17.99
Martyn Thomas’s splendid book charts the origins of women’s rugby before honing in on the first Women’s World Cup in 1991, a marvel created by four Richmond players who became the organising committee: Deborah Griffin, Sue Dorrington, Mary Forsyth and Alice Cooper.
In that pre-Internet era when communication often happened via fax machine, this intrepid quartet achieved a miracle by staging a 12-team tournament in Wales, complete with atrocious weather, alarmingly tight schedules and a Soviet team pleading poverty but happy to flog watches and vodka! The Russians departed with an unpaid accommodation bill.
Such were the stresses that Griffin admits she was close to having a breakdown, but their heroic efforts helped pave the way for the professional women’s sport we have today.
RUGBY BOOK OF THE YEAR WINNERS
2008 Ripley’s World – Andy Ripley (Mainstream)
2009 Seeing Red: Twelve Tumultuous Years – Alun Carter and Nick Bishop (Mainstream)
2010 Confessions of a Rugby Mercenary – John Daniell (Ebury Press)
2011 The Grudge – Tom English (Yellow Jersey)
2012 Higgy – Alastair Hignell (Bloomsbury)
2013 The Final Whistle: The Great War in Fifteen Players – Stephen Cooper (History Press)
2014 City Centre – Simon Halliday (Matador)
2015 Beyond The Horizon – Richard Parks (Sphere)
2016 No Borders: Playing Rugby for Ireland – Tom English (Arena Sport)
2017 The Battle – Paul O’Connell (Penguin Ireland)
2018 Wrecking Ball – Billy Vunipola (Headline)
2019 Sevens Heaven – Ben Ryan (Weidenfeld & Nicolson)
2020 My Life and Rugby: The Autobiography – Eddie Jones (Macmillan)
2021 Exe Men: The Extraordinary Rise of Exeter Chiefs – Robert Kitson (Polaris)
2022 The Flying Prince: Alexander Obolensky – Hugh Godwin (Hodder & Stoughton)
Follow Rugby World on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter