This Thursday sees the winner of the rugby category unveiled at the Sunday Times Sports Book Awards in London. Rugby World looks at the six titles vying for glory
The contenders for Rugby Book of the Year
Launched in 2003, the annual Sports Book Awards – now sponsored by The Sunday Times – showcase the cream of sports writing and publishing. The Best Rugby Book category was introduced in 2008 and is judged by a panel from the Rugby Union Writers’ Club.
The charismatic Andy Ripley was the inaugural winner, while last year saw Robert Kitson pick up the award for his modern history of Exeter Chiefs. Kitson attended a prize-giving dinner at The Kia Oval cricket ground, which hosts the awards again on Thursday (26 May).
There are 11 categories and a number of rugby books feature in those: Alun Wyn Jones’s Belonging (Autobiography), Siya Kolisi’s Rise (International Autobiography), Eddie Jones’s Leadership (Performance), Flats & Durders Offload (Entertainment) and England Rugby 1871-2021 (Illustrated) might all consider themselves unlucky not to have made the rugby shortlist, which is drawn from books published in Britain and Ireland during 2021.
We sum up the contenders for the Rugby Book of the Year, which comes in association with Arbuthnot Latham. The six nominated books are as follows…
Anthony Buchanan: The Buck Props Here!, Y Lolfa, RRP £9.99
Buchanan only played his first game of rugby at the age of 22 and didn’t join a first-club club until 26. Yet the loosehead prop was such a natural that he won five caps for Wales, four of them at the inaugural World Cup in 1987.
He is feted for being the last collier to play for Wales and when the mines closed he went on to become a team manager for Llanelli Scarlets and a World Rugby administrator.
Publishers Y Lolfa are masters of the short but pacy read and The Buck Props Here! maintains that tradition. It’s ghosted by Geraint Thomas, who was shortlisted in both 2017 and 2020.
Jamie Roberts: Centre Stage, Hodder & Stoughton, RRP £20
Another Welsh offering, this time charting the career of Wales and Lions great Roberts. Written in collaboration with Ross Harries, one of the best ghostwriters in the business, Centre Stage packs a punch every bit as forceful as the player’s thunderous midfield carries.
A central theme is how Roberts managed to balance his professional rugby career with the demands of medical training – at one stage he was rising at 4.15am to squeeze in several hours of exam revision ahead of facing England! “I was pushing myself to the point of exhaustion,” he says.
Roberts is currently living in Australia, having secured a short contract with Waratahs.
Keith Earls: Fight or Flight, Reach Sport, RRP £20
Reach Sport might have had three titles on the shortlist but must settle for two after Mike Phillips’s book missed out. The publishers struck gold with Earls’s revelations about bipolar disorder, mental illness and illiteracy – to name just three of the riveting topics explored.
Ghosted by Tommy Conlon, Fight or Flight explains with vivid clarity why the Munster and Ireland wing has spent most of his career dodging media interviews when in different circumstances his rugby talents might have brought reams of column inches. He has shown considerable courage in opening up on sensitive subjects.
The book won the 2021 Irish Sports Book of the Year award.
The Flying Prince: Alexander Obolensky by Hugh Godwin, Hodder & Stoughton, RRP £20
How curious that the shortlist contains a book about someone who fled Russia for the West to avoid war and persecution. Any parallels to life in 2022 are purely coincidental, Godwin’s biography of Russian prince Obolensky being long in the making.
And what a book it is too. Obolensky’s incredible and tragic story, his life in England cut short by World War Two after a history-defining Test debut against New Zealand, was always likely to make a powerful read.
However, Godwin’s skill and diligence has made this a humdinger. There is evidence of a staggering depth of research while his clever use of dialogue has brought to life scenes from nearly a century ago.
This Is Your Everest by Tom English and Peter Burns, Polaris, RRP £17.99
A rugby shortlist wouldn’t be complete without Polaris, whose estimable MD and sports editor Pete Burns paired up with Rugby World contributor Tom English for this book on the epic British & Irish Lions tour of 1997.
The tour to South Africa was iconic in many ways and the duo have done a magnificent job in pulling together the political, racial and economic strands that swirled around the Lions’ first professional tour.
Numerous characters from both camps have their say and the book will make you laugh one moment yet chill you to the bone the next. This is Your Everest was shortlisted for the William Hill sports book award.
Willie Anderson: Crossing the Line, Reach Sport, RRP £20
Last but not least is the second of Reach Sport’s nominations, the story of Willie Anderson.
Younger readers may have no memories of the 27-cap, amateur-era career of the former Ireland captain. But they will be as gripped as anyone by the frightening events that unfolded after Anderson stole an Argentinian flag in a drunken prank and nearly incurred a life prison sentence as a result.
There is a great deal to enjoy about this autobiography of Anderson, whose place in the affections of Ireland’s rugby fraternity will be forever secure. Brendan Fanning, who wrote the critically acclaimed From There To Here, worked with Anderson on the book.
So those are the contenders for Rugby Book of the Year. Below you can see those who successfully trod before them…
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)
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