Need a few ideas for Christmas gifts? Look no further than rugby books. It's a bumper year for them, starting with a cluster of autobiographies by some heavy hitters…
Rugby books to buy for Christmas
“Let’s be reasonable and add an eighth day to the week that is devoted exclusively to reading,” said the comedy writer Lena Dunham. You’ll certainly need a few extra days to enjoy the deluge of rugby books that have hit the shelves this autumn.
And you might be tempted to ask “Where’s Gregor?” because Scotland’s head coach is alone among the home nation bosses at RWC 2019 in not bringing out an autobiography.
Warren Gatland stole a march on his rivals with a 14 November release date for his Pride and Passion (Headline, £20), the New Zealander able to reflect on an extraordinary three decades of success that includes three Wales Grand Slams, two World Cup semi-finals and two unbeaten Lions series.
Fellow Kiwi Joe Schmidt provides life lessons and management ideas in Ordinary Joe (Penguin Ireland, £25), a book that The Irish Times calls “an insight into the fascinating personality of the man who has been the most influential figure in Irish rugby over the last decade, or probably any other decade for that matter”.
While Schmidt elected to write his book himself, England coach Eddie Jones recruited the award-winning author Donald McRae to pen his life story for the first time.
Jones’s book, My Life and Rugby (Macmillan, £20), has been serialised by The Times and includes an admission of selection errors for the recent World Cup final.
“I should have chosen Joe Marler ahead of Mako Vunipola at loosehead prop and reverted to the Owen Farrell-Manu Tuilagi-Henry Slade midfield we used against Australia,” he says.
“George Ford could have come off the bench when we had got into the game. But you never know until the game starts. You use the best available evidence and rely on your gut.”
As a result, Sir Clive Woodward remains the only England coach to land the Webb Ellis Cup and in How to Win (Hodder & Stoughton, £20) he analyses the events of Japan 2019 in a book branded as “the distillation of a philosophy of leadership developed during a lifetime in high-performance environments, from the rugby field to the boardroom”. Woodward’s 2003 book Winning!, published shortly after England’s triumph in Sydney, is still in print.
Switching hemispheres, Heroes & Heartbreak (Allen & Unwin, £17.99) is published in New Zealand but will be available on Book Depository and Amazon from 3 December. It follows every beat of the All Blacks campaign in the 12 months up to and including their failed attempt to bag a third successive world crown.
“The climax was not the one that the All Blacks wanted, and signals a new era in world rugby. It may prove to be a defining moment for the game in New Zealand as well,” says the promotional literature, enticingly.
The book is written by freelance sportswriter Jamie Wall and he’s also responsible for Brothers in Black (Allen & Unwin, £14.99), which looks at the astounding number of brothers playing top-level rugby in New Zealand.
One of the country’s all-time greats, Kieran Read, has bowed out internationally and tells of his experiences in his autobiography Straight 8 (Headline, £20).
Welsh rugby fans are also well served this year. Glenn Webbe’s autobiography, The Gloves are Off (Y Lolfa, £9.99), is the story of the 1980s Bridgend wing who became the first black player to play for Wales.
Geraint Thomas, co-author of the book, said: “I actually played alongside Glenn for Bridgend in the early ’90s, so I knew as well as being a brilliant player he had a huge personality as well. I will never forget waiting to run out for my Bridgend debut, feeling very nervous, when Glenn turned to me in the tunnel and said, ‘So, are you any good?’ – typical Glenn!”
Y Lolfa also have a book out on the outgoing Wales coach. Called Gatland’s Last Bow (£9.99), it’s written by Richard Morgan and will be published in December.
We ran a competition for Sam Warburton’s Open Side (HarperCollins, £20), about the mental and physical toll of playing elite-level rugby, when the book came out in September.
Behind the Dragon: Playing Rugby for Wales (Polaris, £20) is a history book in the players’ own words, as expertly crafted by Ross Harries, while On to Glory (VSP, £20) is the story of Wales’ 2019 Grand Slam in glorious technicolour. Both were published early this year.
Further north, The World According to Doddie (Black & White, £12.99) is a light-hearted collection of mantras, mottos and one-liners from the legendary Doddie Weir. Seeing as we’re in election mode, here’s a suggestion from the book. “Why is there a need for charities?” says the tireless MND campaigner. “Take 10p from everyone, per week, and divide that up amongst all the charities. Revolutionary, eh? Vote Doddie.”
A Full-back Slower than your Average Prop (Arena, £17.99) is the memoir of former Scotland full-back Ian Smith and takes its title from an unflattering description of him in a book about Scottish rugby! Reviewing the book, Allan Massie said it will “delight readers who remember the amateur days with pleasure and nostalgia, and astonish those too young to have had the good fortune to have known them”.
Smith, by the way, is still a practising dentist at the age of 75, living in Norfolk.
Unholy Union (Constable, £20) is a fascinating and in-depth analysis of our sport. Author Michael Aylwin and consultant Mark Evans have collaborated on every imaginable topic, from concussion to the salary cap to the struggles of the community game. It’s just one of the books we’ll be featuring in an online competition in the near future.
Amberley Publishing in Gloucestershire produced a couple of books this autumn. At Least We Turn Up is the biography of John Pullin, the former England and Lions hooker, while The Lion of the RAF relates the career of George Beamish, a WW2 hero who played for Ireland and the Lions between the wars.
If risqué is your thing, Taking it Up the Blindside (DCO Books) is a collection of short stories based on tour antics in Thailand and South-East Asia. Written by Jon Prichard, the Kindle edition is available for less than £7 at the time of writing.
Staying in Asia, Tokkie Smith and the Colour of Rugby (Adagio Media, $14.99) is John D’Eathe’s tribute to the founder of the Hong Kong Sevens.
The Wooden Spoon Yearbook 2020 (Lennard, £20) is the 24th edition of the fund-raising annual and this year is largely devoted to the World Cup. Sir Ian McGeechan and editor Ian Robertson pick their World Cup XV and include some surprise choices.
Related content: Win the Official Review of Japan 2019
Some old favourites have been updated. Rugby’s Strangest Matches (Portico, £9.99) by John Griffiths relates some of the sport’s quirky goings-on, while for all you active players, Chic Carvell and Rex Hazeldine have you sorted with Fitness for Winning Rugby (Austin Macauley, £17.99). Alongside core fitness information, it includes chapters on nutrition, injuries and recovery. But don’t expect it to fit in a Christmas stocking!
No Borders (Polaris, £14.99) must also be mentioned here. Tom English won the 2016 Rugby Book of the Year with the original version and a newer edition, containing exclusive new material from Ireland players in the wake of their 2018 Grand Slam, was released last year.
Finally, something for the youngest readers of all. Ben the Tractor and Friends (David & Charles, £7) is a children’s story produced for Ben Moon’s testimonial. The long-serving Exeter prop, who has eight England caps, is supporting two charities: the Exeter Chiefs Foundation and the Beacon Centre.
Rugby World has reviewed some of these books and run competitions in the past 12 months – and we’ll be featuring more of these titles in the coming weeks. There’s a lot of good stuff out there, so don’t forget to buy one or two of them for the festive season. Amazon is the most popular one-stop website or you can visit the publishers’ own websites.