Monday, August 9, 2010

Top 5 NZ rugby biographies - my idea of the best of the locker room jocks

List by Tosca

"Rugby is great. The players don't wear helmets or padding; they just beat the living daylights out of each other and then go for a beer. I love that."
- Joe Theismann

Petone, a seaside town in Wellington, had a strong rugby league and netball background. It was not uncommon for men who played on the local rugby teams to have wives or partners who played in the netball teams. And yet my memories of Petone are of being dragged from rugby field to rugby field. It was a normal occurrence for me to see a lot of Wellington-based All Black rugby players such as Bernie Fraser, Stu Wilson, Murray Mexted, Graham Mourie and Allan Hewson, either on the sidelines as a spectator or on the field. Rugby was as much an integral part of my formative years as school, so it's no surprise that I have a list of NZ rugby biographies and memoirs. What may surprise you is the selection. I'd like to point out that I grew up reading whatever was on my own kiddie bookshelves and on my parents' ones which is why I have such a list, and yes, these books are still on dad's shelves (somewhere up in Doubtless Bay) now. The rugby matches of today are a far cry from those I watched as a child. Gosh knows they're certainly far more civilised - gone are the days when it was a considered a great game if it ended in a punch up.

Grant Batty was as much a force off the field as he was on it and his direct nature is about as Kiwi as it can get. Veysey's 1977 Meads book set the benchmark for successive sports biographies and yet, interestingly enough, it is the Turner version (below) that allows the former All Black to be more relaxed and open. Perhaps that came with age.

The more modern selections are more for sentimental reasons: Jonah Lomu is the local boy who made good; Kees Meeuws is the Maori-Dutch player who moved to France to attain financial security that being benched as an All Black couldn't give; Norm Hewitt is the man who sobbed on tv for the nation's forgiveness and turned out to be as human as everyone else.

Honourable mentions:
* Lochore: an authorised biography by Alex Veysey, Gary Caffell & Ron Palenski
* I, George Nepia: the golden years of rugby by George Nepia & Terry McLean (sentimental reason, he was my great granduncle)
* Christian Cullen: life on the run by John Matheson (I always thought the timing of his book was more about sour grapes but it was a good read. My father and I disagree quite heatedly about the inclusion of this title - he thinks it should've been in the actual Top 5 list and that I let the personality and not the hard work be judged. Meh he may be right) .
* Boots 'n' all by Andy Haden

Jonah: my story / Jonah Lomu
Jonah is the remarkable autobiography of a young man who went from local sports lover to international rugby hero and super star. Lomu takes us from Jonah's days growing up in Auckland - his family, schooling, loves and losses right up to his present health issues. The book very personal account from a man that has led a very public life. More than just a rugby story this is a tale of courage and survival.

Meads / Brian Turner
Colin Meads is considered to be one of the greatest rugby players in New Zealand. Here, he dips back into his playing career and offers comparisons with the modern game. It becomes a social commentary - how professionalism has changed the face of rugby forever. And how the modern player has taken up the challenge.

Gladiator: the Norm Hewitt story / by Michael Laws
Bully, drug dealer, drunk, All Black. These were some of rugby's hard men. Gladiator is an intensely personal account of his rise, fall and struggling redemption. The story of a man as much at war with himself as any opponent on the rugby field.

Le Rugbyman : Kees Meeuws' season in the South of France / Kees Meeuws with Heather Kidd
Selection for the All Blacks more often than not opens the door to a life less ordinary: big salaries, fame and endless overseas travel. Why would anyone walk away from all this? Kees Meeuws - the cornerstone of the All Blacks' front row, a veteran of 42 tests and world record holder for test tries scored by a prop - did just that ... His destination was Castres in the south of France. It was here, far away from the giddying heights of All Black rugby, that Meeuws sought to rekindle his enjoyment of the sport that has been such a huge part of his life. Meeuws and his family went looking for adventure on and off the rugby pitch.

Grant Batty: a biography / Bob Howitt
The story of the most electrifying, entertaining and successful rugby player of our time, Grant Batty. An 11-stone dynamo, he lured tens of thousands of spectators to matches and delighted them with his attacking genius, his audacious tangling with giant forwards, his irrepressible zest for action and for the game of rugby. Batty was direct, aggressive and controversial on the field, and these same qualities comed through in this biography. He talks with an honesty, an openness, a bluntness which makes this probablybthe most refreshing New Zealand rugby book written and certainly one of the most valuable.

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