There are three Irish titles among the six-strong rugby shortlist at the 2017 Cross Sports Book Awards. Rugby World takes a closer look at the contenders…

There’s a distinct Irish flavour to the rugby shortlist for the Cross Sports Book Awards, which take place at Lord’s cricket ground on Wednesday evening.

The powerful autobiographies of former Ireland and Lions locks Paul O’Connell and Donal Lenihan both make a six-strong list that also includes Gerry Thornley’s riveting account of Connacht’s Guinness Pro12 triumph this time last year.

The awards are in their 15th year and have grown in both magnitude and status, with categories added and Sky’s TV cameras now on hand to capture the key moments for a highlights programme.

Sponsors have been keen to associate with an event that celebrates outstanding sports writing and book publishing. Bankers Arbuthnot Latham support the Rugby Book of the Year award that was won last year by a long-time Rugby World writer Tom English, for his compelling No Borders: Playing Rugby for Ireland.

An accomplished New Zealand stable-mate, Behind the Silver Fern, makes this year’s shortlist, as does a beautifully crafted history of Harlequins to mark their 150th anniversary, penned by Brendan Gallagher.


Proud heritage: Harlequins’ 150th anniversary prompted a splendid history book (Getty Images)

Completing the rugby list is the autobiography of one of the first superstars of rugby union, Welshman Terry Davies, whose book sheds light on postwar rugby in both hemispheres and is a treat.

“Terry is a natural storyteller,” says co-writer Geraint Thomas. “His book is packed with humour. He typifies the Welsh humour once so prevalent amongst the working class.

“His tale is both a social commentary and cultural account of Welsh life pre and post war as well as a priceless account of a bygone age of rugby union.”

The book is presented in memory of Terry’s brother Len, who was capped for Wales before Terry but died in his 20s of leukaemia.

1959 Lions

The 1959 Lions side that represented the high point of Terry Davies’s career (Hulton Archive/Getty)

Whoever picks up the gong will become the tenth rugby winner. The late Andy Ripley was a popular first recipient of the rugby award in 2008, with his diary detailing his fight against prostate cancer, and the poignancy of his acceptance speech has not been surpassed.

There is no second-guessing the judging panel, which comprises five seasoned rugby journalists. Tom English’s The Grudge, about the 1990 Scotland-England Grand Slam shootout, and Alastair Hignell’s autobiography Higgy triumphed in successive years against books that arguably carried the favourite’s tag.

Brian Moore’s Beware of the Dog and Matt Hampson’s Engage had to be content with taking the Best Autobiography prize.

The Rugby Book of the Year winners

  • 2008 Ripley’s World – Andy Ripley (Mainstream)
  • 2009 Seeing Red: Twelve Tumultuous Years in Welsh Rugby – 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 (The History Press)
  • 2014 City Centre – Simon Halliday
  • 2015 Beyond The Horizon – Richard Parks (Sphere)
  • 2016 No Borders: Playing Rugby for Ireland – Tom English (Arena Sport)

O’Connell, whose book The Battle, ghosted by Alan English, reflects the intensity and drive for perfection he brought to elite rugby over most of this century, is going for a double because he is also shortlisted in the International Autobiography category.

He will face opposition from Barcelona superstar Andrés Iniesta, boxing legend Roberto Duran, South African cricketer AB de Villiers, long-distance swimmer Diana Nyad and the creator of Nike, Phil Knight.

Damon Hill, Ian Wright, Greg Rutherford, Jo Pavey, Joey Barton and Jonathan Trott are the stars in contention for the Cross Autobiography of the Year award.

Simon Halliday

Prize guy: former England centre Simon Halliday won the rugby award in 2014 (Getty Images)

The awards will be presented by Sky Sports News presenter Mike Wedderburn and Test Match Special’s Alison Mitchell.

After the category winners have been announced on 24 May, each winner will be promoted in a media and retail campaign, with an online public vote determining the overall Cross Sports Book of the Year.

Everyone that enters the public vote at will be entered into a prize draw to win National Book Tokens.

This year’s nominees for Arbuthnot Latham Rugby Book of the Year are:

  • Behind the Silver Fern: Playing rugby for New Zealand. By Tony Johnson & Lynn McConnell (Polaris)
  • My Life in Rugby by Donal Lenihan (Transworld Ireland)
  • Front Up, Rise Up: The Official Story of Connacht Rugby. By Gerry Thornley (Transworld Ireland)
  • Nunquam Dormio: 150 Years of Harlequins. By Brendan Gallagher (Vision Sports Publishing)
  • The Battle. By Paul O’Connell (Penguin Ireland)
  • Terry Davies: Wales’s First Superstar Full-back. By Terry Davies (Y Llofa)
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