The joy in a box of Rugby Books

The joy in a box of Rugby Books

In a moment of kindness and sharing, this writer was donated a ‘great big box of Rugby Books’. How good – and the joy it has brought is something others should realize themselves.

‘Sharing is Caring’ is the saying. Very true, and with a recent experience of inheriting a vast array of rugby books from a relative, the proof lies within that special cardboard rectangle once you open its contents.

Full of surprise, as most are titles that were unfamiliar (even if the national team or individual certainly was). A real goldmine. The amusement in finding and looking forward to reading so many titles something worth expressing.

Rugby books are [at a guess] a long-established category. While recording Test scores, team lists and more was their origin, today the range is substantial. The enjoyment of reading is widely known. Rugby books and non-fiction titles are a popular segment of the publishing market. In New Zealand, England or any rugby region, the investment in your very own catalogue of historical, topical or autobiographical titles can be thoroughly absorbing. Even addictive.

Soaking in the subject, the anecdotes, stories, and the ‘yarns’. Taking up many hours and days of reading and reflecting on memories, often in-between seasons – sometimes received as gifts – the ever-growing list of titles, subjects, and rugby books written about are memorable.

The joy in a box of Rugby Books

In terms of the titles, subjects, and authors, this was a plethora. More than was anticipated, and the below listing of titles is just a highlights package of what was received.

Being mostly New Zealand rugby books, the focus on the All Blacks is self-evident. Maybe it is the popularity but, it could reflect the focal point within the national psyche. Yet when the range of titles is examined, it is still a reflection on the sport of more than just one nation.

The variety ranged from mammoth historical features, to ‘inside the team’ viewpoints, to tour highlights and programs. It included numerous autobiographies – some self-written, and some ghostwritten. To my delight, a couple of autographs had been gained too, and the effort to build such a collection should be applauded …. the same way any decent record or CD collection can be appreciated.

The volume of books can only be touched on here, so below is a selection by Title – including ISBN (to assist readers in sourcing copies).

All Blacks – the Authorized Portrait


This particular book is the biggest. That is in the size/font. It is a tall book, both in girth and in its actual grasp of eras, names, and images. Being so large, the mammoth size allows readers to see full page glossy images.

Renowned author Ron Palenski covers 1893-2006 in 416 luscious pages. It is engrossing, and an opus on NZ Rugby. The foreword is by [then] Chairman of New Zealand Rugby, Jock Hobbs and the mentions and acknowledgments are a ‘whose who’ of the game across the globe.



ICEMAN – the Michael Jones Story

In terms of hero-worship, rugby flankers in New Zealand can reach legendary status. So Michael Jones is probably only matched by Richie McCaw for fan adulation. His game was a breath of fresh air, a hit at the inaugral Rugby World Cup in 1987, his statue now sits at the gates of Eden Park.

Transitioning from the blindside, to openside, along the way this humble mannered New Zealand player with proud Pacific origins became a respected member of society; so much so, that it is now Sir Michael Jones.

Author Robin McConnell shows the man, the player and why fan appreciated his athletic, brave and game-changing role. Peerless in his influence, many flankers today will use the IceMan as inspiration to achieve but to stay true to his personality, religion, and his people.

ISBN: 0-908630-44-1


Toughest of them all -New Zealand v South Africa

This one stands out for the topic; our greatest rugby rivals, South Africa. So many All Blacks books reflect on Test, Series or the infamous 1981 Springboks tour. This book, only looks at the ‘struggle for rugby supremacy’ between New Zealand and South Africa.

In 1921, it started, And for nearly a century, and with the 100th Test to be played this year on September 5, at Eden Park, it is very apt to look at the sides ferocious challengers to one another. Not in such a Wikipedia style, but to think on the occasions which Springbok tours once were. This is a ‘reflections on’ the eras. And it reads well.

Co-authors Grant Harding and David Williams each lend their thoughts on the development of a rugby-relationship. Each speaks of the times they were introduced to the rivalry – in terms of analysis of rugby books, this is a human tale. It is personal, so if you want facts and figures, then order an Almanac. ‘Toughest of the all’ covers the emotive story.

And it is a great example of how fans/writers feel about the contest between nations.

ISBN: 0-14-0-295771


Rugby Nomads – itinerant rugby individuals

This book stood out for the range of names it covered. The contents list a foreign nation [Australia, Japan, England, etc] and then lists a few players/coaches who have if not played in, or contributed to.

Written in 2002, the choices are current for the times. The Wales section is dominated by Graeme Henry, who would only become the All Blacks coach in 2007. So the essays are valid for the period of time a player/coach resided in that country. John Kirwan’s offseason terms with Benetton are written about in a respective way, describing how he and Craig Green would flat together, enjoy the social life and each would marry Italian wives.

Co-authors Bob Howitt and Dianne Haworth have researched their subjects, utilizing a large range of individuals and some personal photos (care of the players/coaches) across 296 pages. It gives the book a one-on-one viewpoint, without the need for quotes of reaction to the situation. It even covers some ‘rugby imports’ like Martin Johnson and Jonah Lomu’s manager, Phil Kingsley-Jones.

ISBN: 1-86950-447-X


Rugby World Cup 1995 – official Souvenir Programme

One of the gems found in this collection, was an official souvenir programme from the 1995 tournament held in South Africa. A memorable one for the newly restored Springboks, where a ‘rainbow nation’ would enjoy their first of their three World Cup victories.

Over 333 pages long, it takes a good while to absorb the vast list of contributing writers. Names like Bob Dwyer, Gareth Edwards, Naas Botha, John Robbie, Brian Lochore, Peter Bills, Gideon Nieman, Zen Shirai, and others provide lucid points on the competing nations.

The IRB – now World Rugby – were operating their third event, and the presentation of this programme gives a ‘rugby umbrella’ vision for the global game. Compared to the highly marketable product which Japan hosted last year, the 1995 version was still a tour by rugby fans. Some who might only have dreamed of visiting South Africa, found the nation rejoicing in its inclusion in the competition.

This souvenir still comes with the 1995 World Cup score sheet and timetable fully intact. Besides some fading and frayed corners, this could complete a rugby fans collection; as the full set from 1987 to 2019 would surely be priceless. Rugby books and memorabilia are things that are cherished by individuals and sometimes handed down through families, generation to generation.

ISSN:  102415700-8 (possibly no longer being re-published)


Black Days – rugby’s biggest names discuss the All Blacks

This John Matheson book states that 12 of the world’s biggest rugby names explain ‘what it’s like to face the mighty All Blacks’. And the contributors list is impressive to start with.

Serge Blanco, David Campese, Dawie de Villiers, Gareth Edwards, Gavin Hastings, Phil Kearns, Willie John McBride, Brian Moore, Francois Pienaar, Huga Porta, Gary Teichmann, and JPR Williams. That is an influential grouping, Men who know what they are talking about.

Broken down into chapters, each identity has their career highlighted with matches against New Zealand; test, tour games, matches for the Barbarians, Lions or World XV. That centenary tour allowed Gavin Hastings his only win against the All Blacks – and his input, and that of all the others illustrates how highly regarded, are the ‘men in black’.

ISBN:  1-86958-764-2


Ka Mate Ka Mate – NZ’s conquest of British Rugby

Australian writer Spiro Zavos has delved deep into the relations between the New Zealand team’s big brother. England, and British Rugby. The games key stakeholder has always had a love/hate relationship with the teams from the Antipodes.

Zavos states that ‘there is an underlying resentment that a small and seemingly unsophisticated community, so distant in terms of empathy from the classes that created the game of rugby, has consistently defeated British teams’. While not a constant, the All Blacks more than often visited the United Kingdom, and leave with the prizes. So does that cause disdain in England? A little bit true but, changing with the times.

Published in 1998, the last two decades have seen fewer contests between the major unions – a period of less rugby, that has probably made the matches peak higher. Egland has won several over this recent period yet reading Ka Mate Ka Mate and great NZLvENG clashes does show that across the world, the Silver Fern is respected, as much as it may be tolerated.

ISBN:  0-670-88397-2


CARLOS – the Story of Carlos Spencer

Rifling through the mixed box of rugby books, many interesting autobiographies stood out. Ex-players included Ian Jones, Inga Tuigamala, Jeff Wilson, and Christian Cullen. Household names, and with that thought, this last title will be a name few could forget. Carlos Spencer.

Writer Richard Becht compiled the player’s life story from interviews, and over 18 chapters with a large proportion of full-page images, cover the emergence of the boy from Levin. His elevation to Auckland, and then the Blues and All Blacks, was meteoric. He shot to fame with his energy, spontaneity, and flair for the flamboyant style. He fitted well into the new professional era, and this book covers his career in 234 pages.

The cover image [search on Google] is similar to his Toffee Pops advertisement. The big smile, the bigger skills range, and the cheeky attitude that made competitors loathe him, and some fans adored him.

ISBN:  1-877252-15-8


What you find in a good box of rugby books, is appreciation. To make it even better, the unexpected makes it a whole lot better. The next time you think of adding, or reducing your collection, offer it to a friend or rugby mate.

Because is sharing really is #rugbyunited.


“Main photo credit”
Embed from Getty Images

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