Ears to the ground. Do you hear the gentle caress of a forearm to the face, the whimsical thud of a scrum engagement, the glorious stroke of leather boot on synthetic rubber? Yes Booktopians, here we are, halfway through another Rugby season, and with it mid-year tests for the Wallabies.
Rugby has been a major force in the Australian sporting landscape for over a century with teams now based in five Australian states and territories. With great Rugby knowledge comes a weight of insight from those who have partaken in the bountiful fruits that the game brings, like cauliflower ears and bad knees, and those who watch the game with passion.
Often described as ‘a thugs game played by gentlemen,’ here are my top five books on this delicate mistress. Follow me, and let them warm the cockles of your heart amongst the ruck and mauling of your soul.
by David Pocock
At first glance it’s easy to dismiss a sporting autobiography by a 22 year-old. However David Pocock is much more than meets the eye. Born and raised in Zimbabwe, the African nation’s political upheaval saw his family evicted from their farm, forcing them to flee to the safety of Australia.
Just three years later, Pocock captained the Australian under-20 Rugby side at the world championships and in 2010 won the John Eales medal as Australia’s outstanding rugby player. In 2009, he established Eighty-Twenty Vision, a charity to help underprivileged people in rural Zimbabwe. He also lifts the lid on the pressures of being a professional athlete, including a gut wrenching account of his previously unknown battle with eating disorders in an effort to be the player many believed he should be.
Here we have a refreshingly articulate account of a talented, humble and extremely honest young man. In a world where sportsmen and woman behave with relate indifference to the outside world and the responsibilities of being a role model, this book is a benchmark for all young men and women to aspire to.
by Andrew James
Stan Bisset, who died in 2010 aged 98, was one of the heroes of the Kokoda campaign in World War II, and before his death Australia’s oldest Wallaby. One of the few Victorians to have represented the Wallabies, Bisset was a leader in several sporting fields before the war.
Mastering track and field (he represented Victoria in the javelin), tennis, cricket, swimming and gymnastics, he was asked to try out for the St Kilda VFL side but after a game with St Kilda Rugby Club he was hooked and represented his state alongside the legendary POW Edward ”Weary” Dunlop. He was also selected in the 1939 Wallabies’ tour of Britain, which landed, shook hands with the King and filled sandbags for two weeks, before turning back around due to war being declared. Bisset served in the war and fought at Kokoda along with his brothers, one of whom died in his arms. Bisset miraculously survived the war and was awarded the Military Cross for his actions upon arriving home.
Armed Serviceman and author Andrew James constructs an inspirational tale of a man who achieved so much in his life without a hint of fuss. A really great read.
by Jay Atkinson
Jay Atkinson is a wonderful writer; a throwback to the halcyon days when names like Plimpton and Mailer rode the back pages of the world’s newspapers. Atkinson must also lay claim to being one of the most passionate American rugby fans in the world, having played the game for much of his life and enjoyed the battle scars that it comes with.
With wonderful wit, wisdom and a penchant for the brutality at that close quarters the game provides, Atkinson paints a fantastic portrait of the amateur sportsman yearning to wake up stiff and sore every Monday morning. The book also contains one of the great quotes about being an undersized Rugby player ever written, “Being a 165-pound wiseass has always been a dangerous occupation”. This is a must for anyone who’s ever seen or played in a suburban Rugby game and lived to tell the tale.
Before Matt Damon put on a prosthetic nose and adopted a questionable South African accent came this absolute bell-ringer of a book from acclaimed writer John Carlin. The source of basically the entire motion picture Invictus, Carlin explores the indelible link between South Africa and Rugby Union, and how Nelson Mandela saw it as the first step to uniting a damaged nation.
While Eastwood’s film was a pass mark, most walked out of cinemas lamenting how far away the impact was from this book, and a better example of how sport can define and unite a nation I’ve yet to read. For anyone interested in sport, politics or history, this will take your breath away.
by Greg Growden
Do you crave the rich ebbs and flows of Australian Rugby history but want one book that gives it to you quickly, succinctly and to the point? Well then Australia’s premier Rugby writer Greg Growden has written the book for you. Covering over a century of Wallaby history, Growden doesn’t take a breath describing the matches home and abroad, tours, ups and downs of one of the most celebrated and successful institutions in world sport.
With a strong lean towards players as men rather than cattle, this wonderful read completes your journey from Rugby fan to Rugby scholar in a single leap, documenting the rise of the game through its amateur days to the high levels of professionalism we see today. Anyone with any interest in Australian Rugby will struggle to put this gem down.
About the Contributor
Andrew Cattanach is a regular contributor to The Booktopia Blog. He has been shortlisted for The Age Short Story Prize and was named a finalist for the 2015 Young Bookseller of the Year Award. He enjoys reading, writing and sleeping, though finds it difficult to do them all at once.
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