Hard Men of Rugby (Paperback)Luke Upton (author)
Publisher: Y Lolfa
Number of pages: 216
Dimensions: 215 x 140 mm
Winston Churchill described rugby as a hooligans' game played by gentlemen. And in saying so, he added to the eternal debate. Where does toughness end and thuggery begin on the rugby field? Nigel Owens in his foreword to this fascinating book goes a long way in answering that question. 'A dirty player,' he opines, 'might deck someone from behind - something that in no way proves their hardness.' And 'Amen', say I. Author Luke Upton has whittled down his choice of the hardest men of rugby over the past 110 years to just twenty. They represent twelve different rugby nationalities, including three stalwarts from Wales: Bobby Windsor, Scott Gibbs and Brian Thomas. Upton's final choice is a mixture of the famous and the lesser known. The former include Shelford and Meads of New Zealand, Hadley of Canada, Chabal of France and Dooley of England. Less known to me are Bedell-Sivright of Scotland, who died in Gallipoli in 1915, Paddy Maine of Ireland, Weary Dunlop of Australia and Jacques Berger of Namibia. Upton has garnered dozens of anecdotes, some of them hilarious. He avoids the pitfall of glorifying brutality, although Bobby Windsor does admit to attempting to beat bigger packs by skullduggery. But that is typical of Windsor - hard but utterly honest with it. Just as honest is Irishman Trevor Brennan's comment following an incident in a game against Australia after flooring an opponent with his elbow: 'He was alright,' he said. 'If I was going to do it deliberately, I'd have done it right.' Upton emphasises that his final twenty do not form an exhaustive or definitive list. They rather form snapshots from across the eras of rugby. Nor is the degree of hardness a factor. In fact, says Upton, as well as being hard men these were also very good players. Were I asked to choose my all-time hardest from among the twenty, Brian Thomas of Neath would be my choice. This is how the legendary Phil Bennett describes his first encounter with the bear-like lock nicknamed 'The Ayatollah': 'He came over to toss the coin before kick-off and stood there almost blocking off the light, with a huge black eye - somehow sustained in his own dressing room.' So, does hardness equal thuggery? Jacques Berger sums it up perfectly: 'Rugby is a brutal game but I wouldn't change it for the world. I love it.' -- Lyn Ebenezer @ www.gwales.com
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