Ian McGeechan: Lion Man Review

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by Mike Tremlett



THE most candid reflections by professional rugby players on, for example, whether they discovered rugby or rugby discovered them, who were their biggest early-career influences, what drives and motivates them to pursue sporting excellence in the most physical and confrontational of team sports and where and when they garner the most satisfaction from their chosen careers tends to be the stuff of autobiography.

Most players of any note tend to wait until their careers are over, the boots are hung up and the gum shield has gone in a glass alongside their dentures before they talk about personal issues and other platforms available to players who are prepared to talk about what makes them tick in any detail are few and far between.

First, they have to be talking to an author they know, trust and respect and doing justice to their musings in such circumstances is, more often than not, beyond the scope of even the most rugby-centric broadsheet or glossy magazine.

That’s why I was delighted to get my hands on a copy of Ian Smith’s recently published tome: “Rugby Union – The Men Who Make the Game”, a collection of interviews with a string of top-flight players who can still be seen plying their trade at the very pinnacle of professional rugby union.

Written by Newcastle Falcons’ education and welfare office Ian Smith, a former Falcons academy coach and one-time director of rugby at Northumberland University who is now a familiar voice to fans in the north-east as a summariser on BBC Radio Newcastle,  “Rugby Union – The Men Who Make the Game” is not written by a journalist and in my opinion as a journalist, it is all the better a read because of that.

Over the course of more than a year, Smith amassed a series of candid and entertaining interviews with 15 players – one for each position in a team, starting with Sale Sharks and England loose-head powerhouse Andrew Sheridan with Leicester Tigers’ inspirational captain and former Ireland full-back Geordan Murphy bringing up the rear via current Saracens and England captain Steve Borthwick and one of his predecessors, recently retired Leicester legend Martin Corry.

And three of last summer’s British Lions – Cardiff and Wales open-side Martyn Williams, William’s Cardiff and Wales teammate Jamie Roberts and Edinburgh and Scotland scrum-half Mike Blair – also have chapters dedicated to their innermost thoughts on the game, the sacrifices they have made in the quest to be among the best in the business  what that means to them and, in many cases, where their future ambitions lie in the most tight-knit of team sports.

Written in a relaxed, easy-to-read, conversational first-person style, Smith has put together a revealing and thoroughly fascinating series of potted autobiographies with each painting a highly informative picture of each of the players who opened up to an author who not only knows rugby inside out from his own first-hand involvement in the game but is also, clearly, a dyed-in-the-wool rugby fan first and foremost.

Once I opened it, I couldn’t put "Rugby Union – The Men Who Make The Game” down until I'd read it from cover to cover and by the time I had, I understood infinitely more about what drives top professional rugby players to do what they do week in, week out than I had previously learned during my own 25-year career as a sports journalist and broadcaster.

It really is that good.

The Book Guild
1st November 2009
ISBN: 9781846244018
Hardback – 252 pages

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