Rugby Union / Books for Christmas: Tales and tantrums from the heart and Sole: Steve Bale takes a look at the latest rugby offerings from the publishing world

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The Independent Online
AS 1992 has like 1991 been an Australian year - of unbroken success with the solitary exception of a Test (out of three) against New Zealand - how appropriate that its main rugby publishing event should concern the Wallabies' coach, Bob Dwyer.

At the start of the season the England manager, Geoff Cooke, enjoined rugby folk not to believe something just because an Australian had said it, but the achievements of Dwyer's teams indicate that here is one Digger we can all dig.

The Winning Way (Queen Anne Press, pounds 15.95) was dictated - almost ad-libbed, it seems - in the aftermath of last year's World Cup, when Australia won friends in addition to winning the Webb Ellis Trophy. Now Dwyer, by setting forth his view that rugby is a simple game requiring less simple, in fact downright complicated, preparation he may come to influence a lot of people as well.

There is, thank goodness, none of the blandness associated with most rugby books. If Dwyer thinks something, he is prepared to say so, though there is an absence of spite even when he deals with the traumas of his sacking as Wallaby coach in 1984 (he was reinstated in 1988) or his relationship with his voluble successor, Alan Jones.

Some of the book is technical and some revealingly personal, detailing his long development from rugby league roots to a position of eminence from which he now expects rugby union to challenge league's hegemony in eastern Australia for the first time this century. Above all, the book exudes life, freshness and honest self-appraisal. An absolute gem.

Would that one could say the same about the autobiographies which are the staple fare of rugby publishing. While Paul Thorburn, Rory Underwood, David Sole and Wade Dooley have in succession told their tale this year, one is all too aware that the full and frank story is never going to be told.

The sense of Thorburn's Kicked Into Touch (Stanley Paul, pounds 14.99) is of a player who does not seem to have derived much pleasure from a career whose distinction was far greater than that of Welsh rugby at the time. If Thorburn won't say, I suppose we will never know what really happened on the ill-fated 1991 tour of Australia when he led Wales to a variety of record defeats and humiliations.

With that, he withdrew from international rugby. Sole's farewell came after the less unpleasant experience of leading Scotland in the same direction six months ago. Heart and Sole (Mainstream, pounds 12.99) is particularly good on the Scots' 1990 Grand Slam and unusually explicit on the rift between Sole and Scottish administrators on the vexed question of off-field earnings.

Publicly Sole gave 'mileage on the clock' as the reason for retirement at 30, a tender age for a prop. But an unnamed committee man's description of him as 'a cancer at the heart of Scottish rugby' was scarcely designed to give him second thoughts.

Once he had made the decision Sole stuck with it and so spared his ghost-writer the embarrassment caused by Rory Underwood. Flying Wing (Stanley Paul, pounds 14.99) is predicated on Underwood's international retirement, the reasons why, the sheer irreversibility of it. Then, lo and behold, before it had even been published Underwood had rescinded his decision.

This is Rory's best chance to explain himself after long years of taciturnity while he let his try- scoring (an England record of 55) do his talking. Underwood explains that his Royal Air Force career has suffered through his rugby commitment - one good reason why he finished and why, maybe, it would have been better to leave it that way.

Dooley was more careful to keep his retirement provisional when his ghost-writer wrote The Tower And The Glory (Mainstream, pounds 12.99); just as well, since he too has carried on regardless. The Lancashire lock, heart and soul of England's success, is one of the most likeable and honest of rugby characters and he tries hard to explain how various violent episodes were out of character.

To put it kindly, he has been subject to the occasional rush of blood - incidents involving Phil Davies of Wales and Doddie Weir of Scotland spring to his, as well as everyone else's, mind - and it might have been better if his explanations were not so obviously meant to be excuses. The exclamation marks which riddle this book give the more serious aspects a wholly unwarranted levity.

These autobiographies deal with the known and familiar, which may be why I enjoyed Warwick Roger's Old Heroes (Hodder & Stoughton, pounds 14.99) so much. Recounting, at 36 years' distance, the 1956 South African tour of New Zealand and what happened to its protagonists is a distinctly unfamiliar, esoteric exercise that deals in social as well as rugby history.

Outside wartime - and this tour was a fairly brutal substitute for war - New Zealand had never been as united behind a common cause. This is much better than the average rugby read but, all right, its appeal is strictly to the rugby buff.

Otherwise there are the customary crop of handbooks, annuals, reference works and one or two quirky originals. Alex Spink's The Rugby Union Who's Who 1992/93 (Collins Willow, pounds 9.99) is the third such volume, has a new French section and is as revealing of players' feelings as the first two. Chris Rhys's Rugby Union Fact Book (Guinness, pounds 12.99) is aworthy successor to the 1981 original, faithfully and strikingly cataloguing rugby's worldwide mass movement.

The Complete Who's Who Of England Rugby Union Internationals (Breedon, pounds 14.95) by Raymond Maule usefully exploits England's current ascendancy, its cast of characters going back to the beginning in 1870. Double Grand Slam (TW Publications, pounds 13.99) by Peter Cullimore is yet another celebration of England's recent accomplishments, though the first to combine 1991 with '92.

Dick Tyson's A Front-Row Guide To Rugby Union Clubs (Stanley Paul, pounds 7.99) is a curious reversion to coarse-rugby writing not quite in tune with these oh-so-serious times. The paperback version of Bill McLaren's Talking Of Rugby (Stanley Paul, pounds 9.99) takes in the World Cup and 1992 Five Nations.

Winning Rugby (Stanley Paul, pounds 9.99) by Roger Uttley and Total Rugby (A & C Black, pounds 12.99) by Jim Greenwood are coaching manuals by acknowledged masters, application of the latter presumably leading to the former.

Scottish Rugby Union Annual (Mainstream Publishing, pounds 9.99), edited by the one-time 'Mighty Mouse' Ian McLauchlan, is a new addition. The Whitbread Rugby World (Lennard Queen Anne Press, pounds 14.99), Courage Clubs' Championship Official Directory) (TW Publishing, pounds 9.99), Rugby Annual For Wales (Welsh Brewers, pounds 4.50) are not.

Neither is Stephen Jones's Rothmans Rugby Union Yearbook (Headline, pounds 14.99), but this is the one that for me is indispensable.