'Union: The Heart of Rugby' - book review by John Bishop

2011-09-10 00:00

IF you want something to carry you through those quiet moments between the 48 Rugby World Cup games over the next seven weeks, we have found the perfect distraction. And you don’t have to budge from the couch.

A hardcover coffee-table book, Union: The Heart Of Rugby, has been published to coincide with the RWC in New Zealand.

Written by leading New Zealand rugby journalist Paul Thomas, the book has 150 original images taken by award-winning international photographers spread over the 200 pages.

Thomas has interviewed five respected and influential former international players — Joel Stransky (South Africa), John Kirwan (New Zealand), Nick Farr-Jones (Australia), Philippe Sella (France) and Martin Johnson (England) — and added their views on the changing game

The book is a celebration of rugby, but it does not steer away from the game’s pain and brutality both photographically and in the writing. Thomas and his Famous Five follow five central themes that are common to rugby, whether the game is being played on the backfields of Woodburn or under the international spotlight at Twickenham: heroes, pride, glory, courage, team, pain, passion and honour.

And, of course, there is always the humour.

On the eve of the 1995 World Cup final ­between South Africa and New Zealand at Ellis Park, a supporter sent the All Blacks a fax with a valuable piece of advice: “Remember that rugby is a team game; all 14 of you make sure you pass the ball to Jonah [Lomu].”

The former Australian World Cup-winning captain Farr-Jones ends by saying that the greatest honour in the game is representing one’s country, but he wonders if that is any concern to players’ agents.

“If I could change one thing about the game today, it would be the involvement of agents. I think they are parasitic on the players and advise their clients badly. Often that advice is to chase the dollar instead of the honour of representing your nation.”

Hear, hear.

The Springboks’ World Cup opener is just hours away and it would be worthwhile to replace the largely ignored garden and travel magazines on the coffee table with this hefty book. Just for the next seven weeks. Union provides a most fitting and timely portrait of the game and at a time when rugby will be dominating thought and word.


• Union: The Heart Of Rugby by Paul Thomas (Wild Dog Press, Johannesburg, R275).

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