There is Rugby Union: the fast, compelling, TV-friendly combat sport in which sponsored gladiators are sold on their ability to crash into each other at top speed, and sometimes even to avoid each other and score. And then there's rugger. Rugger was once the serious version of rugby, more than a mere game, a fierce contact-sport developed in Victorian public schools to forge manly and unshakeable character. For a hundred years boys played rugger and made themselves into men. They also drank too much beer and took their trousers down in public. The dark-side of rugger the man-maker is the recidivist, the dreaded English rugger-bugger. Setting out to examine this contradiction, Richard Beard tries to reconcile contrasting views of rugby and rugger with the diversity of characters he meets, from Booker Prize winning authors to former England hookers. He explores rugby's rivalry with soccer, its influence on the first World War, its surprising attraction for non-conformists, and it's unlikely role in international organised crime. And all the while he's trying to get himself a game.
This is Beard's quest into his rugby-playing past, where he's lived the sport in many of its varied forms. By the end of his wayward journey, he almost qualifies to judge whether rugger has achieved what the Victorians always intended, and made him a better man.
Richard Beard is the author of three critically acclaimed novels, X 20 (Flamingo 1996), Damascus (Flamingo 1998), and The Cartoonist (Bloomsbury 2000). He won an Arts Council of England Author's Award in 1997, and Damascus was New York Times Notable Book of the Year in 1999. He currently plays his rugby in Japan.