Monday night will see the latest winner of the Best Rugby Book unveiled at the Telegraph Sports Book Awards in London. RW runs through the six contenders
Who will win Rugby Book of the Year?
Launched in 2003, the annual Telegraph 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.
The much missed Andy Ripley was the inaugural winner, while last year saw Eddie Jones pick up the award for his autobiography in a virtual ceremony.
This year’s rugby shortlist was announced at the end of July and is drawn from books published in Britain and Ireland during 2020. The awards dinner takes place on 20 September at a new venue, The Kia Oval. We sum up the contenders for the Rugby Book of the Year, sponsored by Arbuthnot Latham. The six nominated books are as follows…
Exe Men: The Extraordinary Rise of Exeter Chiefs by Robert Kitson, Polaris, RRP £17.99
Towards the end of the 2009-10 Championship season, Exeter lost 20-9 at Nottingham at the start of the play-offs. The victors left a note for the Chiefs in the changing room. Good luck but we’ll see you next year, it read. Nottingham expected Bristol to take the promotion spot.
Today that note is pinned up by the desk of Rob Baxter, Exeter’s director of rugby. The Devon team shocked Bristol in the play-offs and have been shocking opponents ever since. Their incredible journey reached new heights in 2020 when they won a Premiership and European Cup double.
Rob Kitson of The Guardian tells the history of Exeter Chiefs, a club that is as old as the RFU (founded 1871) but which until relatively recent times was still seen as a distant backwater. The characters, the obstacles, the dreams – it’s a cracking story and one that will inspire.
Dylan Hartley: The Hurt, Viking, RRP £20
When Dylan Hartley first met ghostwriter Michael Calvin, he cracked a joke about books making good doorsteps. He might have changed his tune after Calvin got to work, telling the former England captain’s life story with a masterful touch. He even engaged in one-on-one scrummaging in Hartley’s kitchen to help him grasp the technicalities of the hooker’s trade.
Hartley’s eventful career makes for good material: his New Zealand origins, the drive to play for England, the competitive streak that spilled over and made him a villain to many.
He lost 60 weeks of playing time to suspension, on top of three-and-a-half years to injury, and likens playing for England to competing in one of those 1920s dance marathons when penniless couples kept going until they collapsed.
And, of course, there was his relentlessly demanding relationship with Eddie Jones; “an attack dog on a long leash”, says Hartley, one of England’s most successful captains.
James Haskell: What a Flanker, HarperCollins, RRP £20
Rugby World features a Tour Tale in our monthly magazine and we could probably have chosen a dozen alone from James Haskell’s book, which is chock-a-block with funny anecdotes and startling revelations across its 309 pages.
The former England back-row has had more scrapes than a new potato but his appetite for life could never be suppressed. “I must have laughed 100 times a day for 18-and-a-half seasons,” says Haskell, who won 77 caps.
As a player he was ahead of his time, seeing a psychologist regularly at 17 to harness the power of the mind. He was 21 when first picked for England and the RFU informed him of this happy fact by email, as was the custom in 2007. His email address at the time? email@example.com
Amid the hilarity there are insights into such matters as the secret of Wasps’ success and how to steal a march on rivals – Haskell says he developed his game more from watching Richie McCaw than from coaching. Ghosted by Ben Dirs, it’s a hugely entertaining read.
Joe Marler: Loose Head, Ebury Press, RRP £20
Completing a trio of England forwards on the shortlist is Joe Marler, something of a cult figure for his off-the-wall interviews and unconventional dress sense.
Ghosted by Rachel Murphy, his autobiography is deliciously different and typically frank. Others might admit to hating ice baths and stretching but who else would say they got so bored during a match that they were thinking about what to have for dinner?
The on-field stuff takes a back seat as Marler talks about life’s simple pleasures, such as his kids swinging off his ears, wrestling Jonny May in his underpants or sneaking out of the 2017 Lions hotel for a fag and a packet of Quavers.
Amid the wit and the wheezes there are serious messages about mental health, Marler having suffered periods of severe depression. The Harlequins prop has twice retired from Test rugby but the fires are still burning.
Our Blood is Green: The Springboks in their own words, Polaris, RRP £17.99
In 1995, when Kitch Christie coached the Springboks, there were a lot of ‘chirpers’ in the team – players who during a game went on at the referee too much for most people’s liking.
So Christie made all the players sit the referee exam. When the marks came back, ranging from a dismal low of 8% to a still feeble high of 37%, he had the mandate to tell the players: “Now you can all just shut the f**k up because none of you know what you’re talking about.”
If only Christie had been around in 2021, perhaps the recent Lions series would have passed off more peacefully.
Gavin Rich’s Our Blood is Green is a collection of interviews with more than 40 Springboks, past and present. They explore all the issues impacting on South African rugby over the past few decades, and a number of people will need to don a tin hat to deflect the fierce criticism resulting.
It’s part of Polaris’s ‘Behind the Jersey’ series, a format that keeps on delivering.
Rob Kearney: No Hiding, Reach Sport, RRP £20
“The contestable box kick will go out of the game in the next couple of years,” says Rob Kearney in his book. “It’s just too difficult now to regain possession after a box kick. Teams are blocking en masse. Saracens build a wall of three or four players in front of the catcher.”
One of the most decorated Ireland players in history, Kearney returned home this year after a short spell with Western Force. At 35, he’s recently been playing Gaelic football.
His autobiography, beautifully ghosted by David Walsh, conveys the blood and sweat that goes into reaching the top level but also the pitfalls. Kearney was too full of himself as a youngster and was duly taken down a peg or two.
No Hiding is a reference to full-back being the most exposed position on the field. Kearney relished the responsibility, producing his finest performance on the previous British & Irish Lions tour to South Africa in 2009.
You won’t find tales of frivolity in his book, he left amusing japes to others. What you do get is the wisdom and learnings from a long and extremely successful career.
No Hiding has also been nominated in the International Autobiography of the Year category.
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 (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)
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