Pocket miracle fills gap in rugby shelves; BOOK OF THE WEEK

Playfair Rugby Union Annual 1996-97 (Headline pounds 4.99) Rothmans Rugby Union Yearbook 1996-97 (Headline pounds 16.99)
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The Independent Online
A professional sport needs a comprehensive reference library for fans to dip into and extract scraps, and screeds, of information. Rugby union, a sport in turmoil but hanging in there, has had the Rothmans Yearbook for some 25 years now.

There has, however, always been room for other works, and 12 years after its last appearance the Playfair Rugby Union Annual is back on the bookshelves. And, like its stablemate in cricket, it is packed with information.

The authors, Bill Day and Brendan Gallagher, two respected journalists, were given a Herculean task by the publishers. They had to produce, if not the definitive tome on the sport, then certainly a book that complemented the authoritative Rothmans annual. And they had just six weeks in which to do so. That would suggest gaping holes in the finished product. Nothing could be more inaccurate.

Messrs Gallagher and Day, together with their statistician, Stuart Farmer, have succeeded where the fainthearted would have given up. Given all the change there has been in the sport over a turbulent summer, and given all the changes in personnel, the Playfair Annual is a remarkable achievement.

The result is a pocket miracle. There is an excellent English clubs section, concentrating on Divisions One and Two of the Courage League, in which biographical details of players - a la Playfair Cricket - are presented. That not all the players are included owes as much to the numerous tardy transfers which took place shortly before the start of the season as it did to an improbable deadline for publication.

The authors promise that were they to produce another volume next year, the contents would be expanded. While, for example, there is a Welsh club guide, there are no player pen pix, similarly with Scotland and Ireland. But there is a novel section that profiles the clubs in the troubled European Cup, and every domestic competition of last season is wrapped up in concise reports.

The beauty of the Playfair Annual is that it does not disturb Rothmans Rugby Union Yearbook on its 25-year-old throne. While not quite yet attaining the near biblical status that the Wisden Almanac has in cricket, Rothmans is still the sport's vade-mecum.

Like Wisden, it used to nominate five players of the year. This 25th volume sees a change to that policy. It may be a one-off, but the editor, Mick Cleary, has decided that he wants to salute as wide a range of personnel as possible.

Lawrence Dallaglio was nominated player of the year. A new category, personality of the year, was shared by two former Ireland internationals, Hugo MacNeill (of Dublin) and Trevor Ringland (of Belfast).

When the IRA ceasefire ended, the two men organised the Peace International between Barbarians and Ireland. It was, according to MacNeill, "a statement of intent. We all want peace".

David Llewellyn