The sport of rugby has a fascinating history, which we'll dive into. While not as popular worldwide as some other sports, those that play and watch rugby are as passionate as any fans in sports. Today, we take a look at rugby books. Like some of our other "Best Of" lists, we could probably make separate lists for best rugby memoirs, team books, or stories about particular matches or tournaments. Instead, we chose to pick the very best books overall from those sub-categories. Regardless of what you're looking for, I think you'll find a book that fits the bill!
A Brief History
The story of rugby dates back to the early 19th century in England. The sport's roots can be traced to the town of Rugby, where legend has it that in 1823, during a football (soccer) match at Rugby School, a student named William Webb Ellis decided to pick up the ball and run with it, defying the traditional rules of the game.
This act of innovation led to the birth of a new sport, which became known as rugby football or simply rugby. The game quickly gained popularity, and the first set of written rules was drawn up in 1845 at Rugby School, cementing the sport's foundation.
Rugby's growth extended beyond the school walls, and soon clubs and teams started forming, spreading the game across England. The Rugby Football Union (RFU) was founded in 1871, formalizing the rules and regulations for the game.
Rugby continued to evolve, and in 1886, rugby league was formed as a separate code with its own set of rules. The original version, now known as rugby union, continued to flourish, spreading to other parts of the world through British colonial influence.
Over the years, rugby gained international recognition, and the first international match took place in 1871 between England and Scotland. In 1883, the first Home Nations Championship (now known as the Six Nations) was played.
In 1900, rugby union made its Olympic debut at the Paris Games, but it was not until 2016 that rugby sevens, a faster variant of the sport, was reintroduced to the Olympics.
Today, rugby is still a relatively niche sport. According to World Rugby, 8 million people play the sport, while 500 million people worldwide call themselves fans.
With that, please enjoy our list of books below, which in our opinion, are all must reads.
The Best Rugby Books
The Classic Picks: Embracing Tradition
The Battle by Paul O'Connell
In this riveting autobiography, Irish rugby legend Paul O'Connell lays bare his illustrious career, providing a unique perspective on the battles fought both on and off the field. From his early days at Munster to captaining the British and Irish Lions, O'Connell's story is a testament to resilience, leadership, and the unwavering spirit of rugby.
Playing The Enemy by John Carlin
Delving into the intertwining worlds of rugby and politics, Carlin's masterpiece recounts Nelson Mandela's efforts to unite a divided South Africa through the Rugby World Cup of 1995. This inspiring true story showcases the power of sports to bridge gaps, transcend differences, and ignite the flames of hope.
A Game for Hooligans by Huw Richards
This is a tremendous book on the history of the game, with so many stories including the story of why 1895 is the most important date in both the rugby union and rugby league history, allegations of devil worship at a Welsh rugby club, the game's contribution to the Cuban Revolution, and why the most fearsome of all New Zealand forwards was also a proficient knitter.
Unearthing Hidden Gems: Lesser-Known Delights
The Grudge by Tom English
Focusing on the fierce rivalry between Scotland and England, English's meticulously researched book explores the deep-rooted animosity and thrilling encounters that have defined this clash of nations. With vivid storytelling and in-depth analysis, The Grudge reveals the intensity of one of rugby's oldest rivalries.
The Jersey by Peter Bills
Bills uncovers the factors that contribute to the All Blacks' sustained success and dominance in the world of rugby. From the team's rich history and cultural heritage to their training methods, leadership philosophies, and mental resilience, The Jersey provides a comprehensive and captivating exploration of what sets the All Blacks apart.
World In Their Hands by Martyn Thomas
A powerful story about the history of women's rugby, Thomas details how a group of friends in southwest London came together to stage the inaugural women's world cup in 1991. This is an important story to tell because 1. it wasn't that long ago and 2. many enthusiasts of the sport don't fully appreciate the uphill battle that female players had to face to get the women's game the recognition that it deserved.
Navigating Tactical Brilliance: Insights from the Pros
Rugby Steps to Success by Tony Biscombe and Peter Drewett
In this comprehensive guide, Biscombe, a respected coach and analyst, breaks down the intricacies of rugby's tactics and strategy. From set plays to defensive structures, this book serves as a valuable resource for players, coaches, and enthusiasts aiming to understand the game's tactical nuances.
Legacy by James Kerr
Drawing inspiration from the mighty All Blacks, New Zealand's national rugby team, Kerr explores the secrets behind their unparalleled success. Legacy uncovers the team's ethos, leadership principles, and commitment to continuous improvement, offering valuable lessons that extend far beyond the realm of rugby.
Rise by Siya Kolisi
Kolisi, the captain of the Springboks, became the first black man to lead his country of South Africa in 128 years! From a childhood of poverty to a 2019 win at the Rugby World Cup, this is a book about "making it." I liked the fact that Kolisi has leveraged his position to do good for others with the launch of The Kolisi Foundation.
Capturing Moments: A Fictional Tale on the Field
This Sporting Life by David Storey
Set in the gritty backdrop of a fictional rugby league, Storey's acclaimed novel delves into the lives of players grappling with personal demons, societal pressures, and the pursuit of glory. This Sporting Life explores the complex relationships between sport, identity, and the human condition.
John Willkom is the author of Amazon best-selling basketball books: Walk-On Warrior and No Fear In The Arena. John is an avid reader, sports fan, and father to two incredible little girls.
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