From a fallible Pope to the original All Black
Behind the Lions. Playing Rugby for the British & Irish Lions(Birlinn Limited, Polaris Publishing) Many books have been written about the British Irish Lions either as a compendium of all tours or else alighting on a particular one but this offering from journalists Tom English, Nick Cain, David Barnes and Stephen Jones – an Irishman, an Englishman, a Scot and a Welshman – is comfortably the most interesting and entertaining.
They may have borrowed a line here and there from other source material, the odd autobiography or 10 and the excellent History of the Lions by Clem Thomas and his son, Greg, the current communications manager who will travel on next year’s tour to Australia, but the majority of the tome is derived from interviews, letters home from tour participants and newspaper clippings.
One classic example centres on the musings of Ireland’s Alex Foster who toured South Africa in 1910 and his appraisal of the unfamiliar hard grounds. “First many South African grounds were so hard that our list of casualties was always heavy. Elbows and knees were skinned in spite of elbow guards and reinforced kneecaps; you were lucky if the wounds did not fester. Eric Milroy, who joined us late, contracted dangerous poisoning from gravel rash. I would strongly urge all touring teams to travel accompanied by a medical man.”
For those with a love of rugby or sport in general, an interest in travel, or a curiosity for history, this book will satisfy all those needs with lavishly descriptive and often humorous anecdotes.
Dave Gallaher. The Original All Black Captain(HarperCollins Publishers) Born in the village of Ramelton, five miles outside Letterkenny in Donegal, where the rugby and GAA shared grounds now bear his name, Dave Gallaher left Ireland in the company of his family as a five-year-old child in 1878 to escape economic misery and the promise of a better life in New Zealand.
Gallaher went on to captain the first New Zealand rugby team to be referred to as the All Blacks, leading the Originals on their 1905-1906 tour to Europe and North America, their first rugby tour to the Northern Hemisphere.
The Originals played 35 matches, winning 34 – they lost to Wales – and Gallaher stood out as both leader and player.
But this isn’t just a rugby story. Gallaher enlisted in the New Zealand army during the first World War – he had earlier fought in the Boer War – at the age of 42 and was killed in action in Flanders doing as he had done on the sporting field by leading from the front.
New Zealand sports writer Matt Elliott traces Gallaher’s life, drawing on a variety of sources to provide a definitive and lavishly fulfilling account of an Irishman whose spirit and inspiration have finally received the wider recognition they deserved.