Rugby Union: Moore means less for his rivals

In the first of a series, Steve Bale looks at this year's best rugby union hardbacks
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The Independent Online
Brian Moore would be the last person to wish for sympathy but there has been something irredeemably poignant about his fortunes this season, or more particularly since his autobiography explained why he had changed his mind about retiring.

For a variety of personal reasons, England's most-capped hooker had reluctantly resolved that the 1995 World Cup would be his swan-song but then circumstances changed and a chat with Jack Rowell, the England manager, persuaded Moore that he still had an international role to play.

How wrong can you be. Brian Moore: The Autobiography (Partridge Press, pounds 16.99) takes its leave of Moore on this optimistic note. Yet, whatever Rowell may have said to him (and presumably there can have been no guarantee) he is already out of the England squad and even - if you look at the way Harlequins' rota has been rotated between Moore and Simon Mitchell - second choice for his club.

That said, this is a fitting epitaph for an exceptional career, or one might even say an exceptional life if that did not sound too doom-struck. Moore may not have been everyone's idea of an ambassador for English rugby, or at least not every Rugby Football Union committee man's, but he has been a shining example of honesty and telling it - however unpalatable - like it is.

This has not always been appropriate, there being a time for reticence as well as for outspokenness but far be it for a journalist to complain. We should therefore commend him and his achievements off the field as an adopted child who made it in rugby and in life through the force of his own intelligence and determination.

Rugby autobiographies by their nature are anodyne and unsatisfactory but not Moore's: for the reader, there is an uncomfortably voyeuristic fascination as our anti-hero delves into his background, the breakdown of his marriage and the search for his real mother. It is powerful stuff, as powerful as the force of Moore's personality.

It has been an autumn of autobiography. Gary Armstrong, Ieuan Evans, Jeremy Guscott, Dean Richards - even Mike Catt, who seems to have been around for all of two minutes - have had a go, and Rob Andrew and Gavin Hastings have gone from hardback to soft. They may make easy Christmas presents but revelatory, by design, they are not especially when compared with Moore's.

As the estimable Stephen Jones ghost-wrote on behalf of both Moore and Guscott, this is the most obvious comparison and both subjects benefited immensely from the sagacity and literary style of one of our finest rugby writers. In fact Guscott's At The Centre (Pavilion, pounds 16.99) would have seemed one of the more refreshingly candid efforts had it not been for Moore.

The best part of this book is Guscott's description of how he, with the help of others who notably included David Trick, the former England wing, turned himself from a schoolboy semi-delinquent with a chip on his shoulder and a big head into one of the great centres and also, contrary to some misinformed or mischievous opinions, a genuinely decent bloke.

But the more publicised section detailing his views of Rob Andrew was blown out of all proportion at the time of the book's publication and is in fact no more than a statement of the obvious: that Andrew, whatever his qualities as a steady, ultra-reliable international stand-off, was never in Stuart Barnes's class either as an individual or as a instigator of attacking threequarter play.

The rest of the autobiographies all suffer the fate of being published around the same time as Moore's, though Brian might like to know that in Jethart's Here (Mainstream, pounds 14.99), with Derek Douglas, Armstrong, a Scot with an attitude towards the English, tells us he can't stand him. You won't find any insults flying in Evans's Bread Of Heaven (Mainstream, pounds 14.99), with Peter Jackson, though the depths to which Wales sunk on their tours of New Zealand in 1988 and Australia in 1991 are honestly detailed.

Away from personalities, the irrepressible Stuart Barnes is in danger of suffering writer's cramp. Having produced his autobiography last year, this year he has edited an anthology of rugby writing, launched a rugby magazine and written The Year Of Living Dangerously (Richard Cohen, pounds 15.99).

Barnes has chronicled the year up to and including the '95 World Cup and given it extra spice with his own idiosyncratic asperity and rather fewer French philosophers than appeared in his previous book.

All three of rugby union's World Cups are Derek Wyatt's subject in Rugby DisUnion (Victor Gollancz, pounds 16.99) and if Wyatt, capped as a replacement wing for England in 1976, is here riding long-running personal hobby-horses, the fact that he has something contentious to say gives his book precious credibility. Just like Brian Moore, in fact.

Also recommended (sort of):

RECOMMENDED: The All Whites: The Life And Times of Swansea RFC by David Farmer (DFPS, pounds 18.95). The Save & Prosper Rugby Union Who's Who 1995/96 edited by Alex Spink (CollinsWillow, pounds 9.99). Rothmans Rugby Union Yearbook 1995-96 edited by Mick Cleary and John Griffiths (Headline, pounds 16.99).

Also available: Carling's Men by Mick Cleary (Weidenfeld & Nicolson, pounds 12.99). Rugby: A Player's Guide To The Laws by Derek Robinson (CollinsWillow, pounds 5.99). The Complete Book Of The Rugby World Cup 1995 edited by Ian Robertson (Hooder & Stoughton, pounds 16.99). The Flowers Whitbread Rugby World '96 edited by Nigel Starmer-Smith and Ian Robertson (Lennard Queen Anne Press, pounds 10.99). The Quest For The Ultimate Grand Slam by Mike Catt and Leonard Stall (Mainstream, pounds 16.99). Deano by Dean Richards with Peter Bills (Victor Gollancz, pounds 16.99). My Favourite Rugby Stories by Gareth Chilcott with Les Scott (Simon & Schuster, pounds 12.99). The Handbook Of Rugby by Keith Miles (Pelham, pounds 18.99). Rugby Annual For Wales 1995-96 (Welsh Brewers, pounds 5.45). Courage Official Rugby Union Directory 1995-96 (TW Publications, pounds 13.99).

Paperbacks: A Game And A Half by Rob Andrew with Chris Rea (Coronet, pounds 6.99). High Balls And Happy Hours by Gavin Hastings with Clem Thomas (Mainstream, pounds 9.99).