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Hampson, Woodward, Brennan - 14 recommended rugby books

We’ve picked out a few good rugby reads and want to hear your recommendations.

MANY OF US have a little more time to invest into the joy of reading at the moment and we at The42 hope to help you find a few sports-related gems.

Below, in no particular order, we’ve outlined a few of our favourite rugby books.

Please feel free to leave a comment with your own choices for must-read rugby books. 

Engage: The Fall and Rise of Matt Hampson – Paul Kimmage

A harrowing read at times, this book tells the story of Matt Hampson, a promising England U21 international who became paralysed from the neck down after an accident during a scrummaging session in 2005.

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Kimmage and Hampson are unflinching and thorough in their account of the horrific injury and its aftermath, although the book contains nice touches of humour and is, overall, an uplifting and inspiring experience.

Sevens Heaven – Ben Ryan

This book tells the story of the ‘beautiful chaos of Fiji’s Olympic dream,’ with Ryan detailing how he took over the Fiji Sevens team in 2o13 and helped them build towards their Olympic gold success in Rio in 2016.

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With the most basic equipment and resources but some of the most talented rugby players in the world, Ryan and Fiji’s journey is riveting.

Brothers in Arms – David Beresford

A visually stunning book that combines beautiful photography with the words of author David Beresford, a self-confessed Francophile who is obsessed with French rugby from the late 1980s and early 1990s.

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Beresford meets and interviews stars of that era including Philippe Sella and Serge Blanco but this physically-large book is about more than rugby, discussing French culture, cuisine and more.

Total Rugby - Jim Greenwood 
Think Rugby – Jim Greenwood

These books by the late Jim Greenwood – a Scotland and Lions international – usually come as a pair. Total Rugby was first published in 1968 but updated many times in the decades that followed as the game changed.

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Total Rugby has been a much-loved coaching manual since that first edition and though some of it is naturally dated, it remains thought-provoking.

Similarly, Think Rugby is a book that encourages the reader to do exactly that – think about how rugby is played.

Confessions of a Rugby Mercenary - John Daniell

New Zealander John Daniell was part of the first wave of professional rugby players, moving to France in the late 1990s and playing for Racing, Perpignan, and Montpellier.

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In this book, he gives an all-access, totally-honest insight into the realities of playing professional rugby at the turn of the century, while happily admitting he was a mercenary.

Gouging, fighting, playing through injuries – Daniell holds nothing back while also giving us one of the very best insights into French rugby.

Stand Up and Fight – Alan English

The story of how Munster beat the All Blacks at Thomond Park in 1978, with Alan English bringing together the various accounts and memories with the skill of a master craftsman.

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This book vividly paints a picture of the game itself but also places it into the wider context of rugby – obviously an amateur sport at the time – as well as Irish society in the late 1970s.

Winning! – Clive Woodward

Woodward has plenty of critics but this is a fascinating account of how England built towards their 2003 World Cup success.

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While the sheer quality of his squad was clearly the crucial factor in the glory, Woodward outlines how he looked for incremental improvements in a wide range of areas in the years that preceded the World Cup.

Longy – Sean Long with Nick Appleyard

If you’re looking for something easier to read, this account of ex-rugby league star Sean Long’s career with Wigan, St Helens, England and Great Britain might be the one for you. Long is now an assistant coach for Harlequins in the Premiership.

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The book certainly lives up the the promise of ‘Booze, Brawls, Sex and Scandal’ on the front cover, with Long providing a series of anecdotes and adventures from his career. Not a chronological play-by-play account of his playing days, the book is better for that.

No Borders: Playing Rugby for Ireland – Tom English

A comprehensive, entertaining, and insightful history of Irish rugby, in which Tom English stitches together more than 130 interviews to ensure the story is told by those who were centrally involved.

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As the title suggests, the book illustrates how Irish rugby dealt with and beat the challenges of being an all-island Ireland team. As importantly as anything, some of the old anecdotes are laugh-out-loud funny.

Beware of the Dog – Brian Moore 

Another honest autobiography. Now a commentator with the BBC and columnist for The Telegraph, former England international Moore is a solicitor by trade and is certainly far from the stereotypical rugby player – even if he was a ‘hard man’ on the pitch.

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This extremely personal account of Moore’s life includes some disturbing revelations about his youth.

My Life and Rugby – Eddie Jones

Released last year and ghostwritten by the brilliant Donald McRae, Eddie Jones’ book is revealing and interesting.

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While it’s unlikely to change the perceptions of those who dislike Jones, there is clear evidence of self-awareness from the England coach.

As the title suggests, it’s a straightforward chronological account of his upbringing and coaching career, but there are many insights into how Jones became the person and coach he is today. 

Legacy – James Kerr

This book aims to detail ‘What the All Blacks Can Teach Us About the Business of Life’ and there are many interesting lessons that could apply to all sorts of professions beyond rugby.

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While we know the All Blacks are far from being squeaky-clean role models who we should hold up as beacons of purity, this book does still include many interesting cultural ideas.

Heart and Soul – Trevor Brennan with Gerry Thornley

Having come through Barnhall RFC to play for Leinster, Ireland and Toulouse, Trevor Brennan’s career was certainly unique.

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Renowned as being an honest character, Brennan’s autobiography is open and entertaining as he details his rise in rugby, the off-field antics he was part of, and addresses what was initially a ban for life from rugby for attacking a fan.

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About the author:

Murray Kinsella

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