The famous maxim goes that 'football is a game for gentlemen played by hooligans, and rugby union is a game for hooligans played by gentlemen'.
However, you simply cannot deny the love of a good hard b*stard running with the oval. Journalist and editor Luke Upton has compiled for your pleasure - both the rugby aficionado and the ones who have kept it at arm's length - twenty of the toughest mothers to ever play the game. The book covers hard men of 12 different rugby nationalities playing over a period of more than 100 years
Brian Lima. Obvs. Bobby ‘The Duke’ Windsor? You got it. Martin Johnson? You betcha.
This isn’t, however, as writer Luke Upton admits, a comprehensive list of every single tough nut that has ever played the game, but its selectivity is its strength. The shift from amateur to professional rugby in the mid 1990s is the great divide in this book and it is the early, perhaps less familiar characters to the wider audience who garner the greatest intrigue, the ones who operated away from the camera and whose legacies were bolstered by hear-say and burgeoning rumour-riling reputation, and had personalities and narratives outside of being athletes. Sir Ernest ‘Weary’ Dunlop, for example, was a World War II hero and POW whose path ran from his native Victoria, Australia, to London, to Palestine to Java, who would only take up rugby at age 24. Upton explores real characters of the game, and though the title is obviously there to tantalise, sensationalise, and draw the reader in, there is real affection written within the pages.
Sebastian ‘The Caveman’ Chabal who adorns the front cover of this issue, with a fearsome exterior of which a soft centre is responsible - he grew his iconic locks and beard as long as his wife remained pregnant - is one of the more familiar accounts. Already an imposing physical specimen, the combination of the flowing black hair, the long beard and the dark piercing eyes made him one of the most instantly recognisable and popular rugby players in the world, something that reached its apex in the cultural zeitgeist at the 2007 tournament predominantly in the home nation of France, where he became the highest-earning rugby player on the planet.
Hard Men of Rugby features exclusive interviews with some of the players themselves, insights from former teammates and a foreword from refereeing legend Nigel Owens – who has himself had to deal with the actions of several who have made the list.
This is an entertaining read of even more impressive character. It is personable, readable and will no doubt get you flexing in admiration of these gentle, sometimes brutal, giants of the game.
The Hard Men of Rugby, by Luke Upton, Ylolfa, RRP £9.99