Saturday, 23 March 2013

Confessions of a Rugby Mercenary


Just finished reading Confessions of a Rugby Mercenary by John Daniell.

I’d been meaning to read the book for some time but somehow never got round to it. A recent Kindle acquisition, however, changed all that and I’m delighted it did because Confessions of a Rugby Mercenary is a fascinating and enlightening read, far more interesting than your average rugby autobiography.

For the uninitiated, John Daniell is (or was) a “rugby mercenary” – a journeyman professional rugby player from Wellington, New Zealand who travelled to France to pursue a professional career for 10 years with the likes of Racing Club, Perpignan and Montpellier.

The book chronicles Daniell's final season with Montpellier and is a brilliant and witty insight into club rugby in France – the pressures to win at home, the battles against relegation, the ruthlessness of agents and club owners and the almost casually accepted on-field violence.

The descriptions of some of the violent acts witnessed, suffered and indeed committed by Daniell on the rugby fields of France brought back some of my own memories. In the 80s my college team went on tour to Toulouse, the climax of which was a fixture against the Toulouse 3rd XV. A few of their players had witnessed us play rather insipidly in a fixture earlier in the week so were a tad surprised at the intensity of our start to the game and how physically we approached rucking (remember that?) in particular. Of course there was no way any team representing the mighty Stade Toulousain were ever going to lose to a bunch of students and so, aided and abetted by the referee (who was also their coach) they punched, kicked, bit and gouged everything that moved for the rest of the game. I was on the bench and came on for the last 20 minutes - my nose was broken by a punch at the first lineout and from then until the final whistle it was a running battle, culminating in a 30+ man punch up in the final few minutes. I think we ended up losing by one point.

A few years later I played a tour match in Paris and my abiding memory is of being held down by a veteran hooker with no fingers on his right hand who then proceeded to punch me repeatedly in the face with his finger stumps. Ah, the good old days!

Anyway, back to the book - it really is very well written indeed (unsurprising, perhaps, from an English Lit graduate) and if you haven't read it I suggest you do so immediately.

John Daniell is also a three times Oxford Blue - but we won't hold that against him.

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