Book of the Week: Sinking warning amid a raft of statistics

Rothmans Rugby Union Annual 1998-99, edited by Mick Cleary and John Griffiths (Headline, pounds 17.99, paperback). Allied Dunbar Playfair Rugby Union Annual, edited by Brendan Gallagher and Stuart Farmer (Headline, pounds 4.99, paperback).
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Rothmans Rugby Union Annual 1998-99, edited by Mick Cleary and John Griffiths (Headline, pounds 17.99, paperback). Allied Dunbar Playfair Rugby Union Annual, edited by Brendan Gallagher and Stuart Farmer (Headline, pounds 4.99, paperback).

THE FIXTURE farce which had tainted the new season even before it had begun, with matches on, off and outlawed, did no favours to the compilers of the game's reference books.

So, although the fixture sections of these worthy volumes have to be taken in conjunction with daily - hourly even, judging by the way both sides shift their ground - checks in the media, they still carry rafts of statistical and biographical information that the rugby fan will find invaluable.

As co-editor Mick Cleary said at the Rothmans launch: "We have introduced a new competition for readers - Fantasy Fixture League." It is not quite as bad as that, but at least someone can see some humour in the silly pre-season.

Rothmans has something of a head start, this being its 27th year, but Playfair has established itself as an essential complement to its big brother. There is enough that is different between the two to make them a worthwhile joint buy.

In the past, Rothmans has not been able to carry a record of summer tours in its year of publication. Typically, this time around England's pitiful southern hemisphere slog beat the deadlines, so the four Test defeats against Australia (a record 76-0 surrender), New Zealand (two defeats) and the 18-0 defeat in South Africa, are there in inglorious black and white.

So is pretty well every other representative match of significance last season. There are well documented international sections for all the major Test playing countries and the awards reflect Rothmans global approach.

Their player of the year is the French prop Christian Califano, introduced in Cleary's habitually wry fashion. Personality of the year is the New Zealand coach John Hart. The choice, Cleary pointed out, was made before the All Blacks slumped so dramatically.

Statistically, Rothmans is its usual exemplary self, with detailed club sections for all home countries, courtesy of its other co-editor, John Griffiths. Where the Playfair Annual scores over its stablemate is in the club section where hours of fact-finding have resulted in a superbly researched biographical and statistical background to every player in every club at the time of publication.

Unfortunately, for co-editors Brendan Gallagher and Stuart Farmer the transfer market does not acknowledge publishing deadlines, but nevertheless the majority of the players in Allied Dunbar Premiership are included.

Playfair's editorial carries a doom-laden warning as it attacks the war of words that has bedevilled the sport since the game went professional three years ago.

"Everyone... must put aside... the mistrust and rancour which hangs over British rugby, particularly in England...this season or the game in the four home unions could slip into terminal decline," writes Gallagher.

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