We look at the importance of rugby and faith. Below are some giants of the game. Their faith plays a vital role in their lives inside and outside of rugby. Some are retired, some are still plying their trade. Amongst them are All black legends, English World Cup winners, current internationals and former ones. There are Muslims, Christians and a lapsed Buddhist in the mix.
Sonny Bill Williams
This double World Cup winner became a Muslim whilst playing for Toulon in France in 2008. He credits Islam with turning his life around, after spending his earlier years as a professional carousing and living the high life. Williams famously gave his winners medal away to a young fan during the All Blacks lap of honour at the 2015 World Cup.
Post-match the youngster tried to get to the pitch so he could get up close to his heroes. As a result, Charlie Line was floored by a heavy tackle from a security guard. Williams watched this unfold and decided to make the fan’s day by providing him with a memorable and powerful memento.
Folau is a dual-code rugby player as well as having played Australian Rules Football. He began his rugby union career in the 2013 Super Rugby season in the Southern Hemisphere. Folau is coming to the end of his career but is well remembered for his athletic prowess as well as getting embroiled in controversy over his Biblical social media posts.
There is no need to go over old ground here, as most rugby fans are aware of what was said and the reaction to it. Needless to say, Folau’s rugby and faith and his social media posts split opinion. After a long drawn out process and when the dust had settled Rugby Australia and Folau settled confidentially in 2019.
The current England number eight also got himself in hot water after liking one of Folau’s social media posts. Vunipola was warned about his behaviour by his club, Saracens.
Like many Christians, Vunipola was made to go to church when he was younger by his family. However he only really began to go deeper into his faith when he was older. The pressures of being a Dad, husband and professional rugby player provided him with the realisation that only God could help him to balance those responsibilities.
Rugby and faith
Murray memorably took the decision in 2009 not to play on a Sunday which would have compromised his beliefs. The Scottish prop was taken to church as a youngster by his Mother. However, he only embraced becoming a Christian fully whilst recovering from a bad injury sustained against Munster in 2005.
Murray was brought up on a farm and is qualified as a vet. In his career, he would play for Scotland sixty-six times. He went on the Lions tour to South Africa in 2009 but had to return home after sustaining an ankle injury.
Like Sonny Bill, Jones is another legend of the game in New Zealand. Many consider him to be one of the best to play in his position. He, like the Scottish prop forward Murray, refused to play on Sunday and missed international games because of it. Notably, he was left out of the Rugby World Cup quad altogether in 1995. Had he been picked it would have meant him missing the quarter and semi-final in South Africa.
Humorously he is quoted as having been asked how such a fierce tackler could be a Christian? His reply, taking his inspiration from the Bible was,
“It is better to give than to receive.”
Tu’ungafasi is a New Zeland prop earning his crust for the Blues in Auckland. Shortly after the devastating Christchurch massacre in March 2019, he converted to Islam. He took the ‘Shahada’, which is the Islamic declaration of faith and the first of the ‘Five pillars of Islam’.
Just as with every international front-rower, he is immensely strong. Check out his equal parts, impressive and adorable, Instagram post with his young daughter where he scrummages a car.
Another to take the ‘prodigal son’ route, Robinson lived his early days as an adult partying to excess. He had a humble start to his life, growing up without a Dad on a Leeds council estate and being the victim of racial discrimination. A gifted athlete who was at the top of the Rugby League game but whose life was spiralling out of control to the point where he contemplated ending his life.
In stepped his Wigan teammate Va’aiga Tuigamala, himself and this is an understatement, not too shabby a rugby player! Tuigamala became a mentor for his younger teammate. Robinson saw the contentedness and peace within the Samoan born player, which came from Tuigamala’s Christianity. As a result, he was able to step away from the brink and focus on his promising rugby career.
The Yorkshireman switched codes and the rest as they say is history. Robinson starred in England’s World Cup triumph in Australia in 2003.
Yet again, as was the case with Sonny Bill, Robinson and to a lesser extent Vunipola and Murray, Jenkins spent some years in the wilderness. As a teenager, Jenkins skipped school and experimented with solvent abuse. This behaviour led to him spending time in a borstal type institution. He describes it as a “home for naughty boys.”
Jenkins was capped fifty-eight times by Wales. He was also part of the Swansea team that beat the Wallabies in 1992, scoring a try on that day. Australia at the time were the current World Champions. As for his rugby and faith, Jenkins always had some Christianity present in the background when growing up.
He is quoted as saying that he would always pray. However, it’s only since he left the game that his faith has come more to the forefront. He is very open about being a Christian and has talked extensively about his religion and life.
Included here slightly mischievously, Wilkinson did not undergo any kind of conversion and recently distanced himself from being a Buddhist. He needs no introduction of course, which goes for all of these players on our rugby and faith list. Known to be meticulous in his preparation, Wilkinson put countless hours in, on the training field. One of England’s greatest ever suffered from his attention to detail. He has talked about how much pressure he would put on himself and the resulting anxiety that it would cause.
In order to cope in the aftermath of England’s World Cup win and subsequent lengthy spells on the treatment table, Wilkinson sought solace and enlightenment in Buddhist teachings. The England legend still has strong links to the game, mentoring the national side’s current tens and working as a broadcasting pundit.
Rugby, just like in life is full of all sorts of individuals. Some of them are practising their chosen beliefs. Hopefully, this article on rugby and faith has shone some light on the diversity of religion within the game.
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