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Fringes: Life on the edge of professional rugby By Ben Mercer

Release date: 10th August, 2021
Publisher: Outlier Press

List Price: 10.00
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Reflecting on the recent Lions Test series in South Africa, it was a great shame that some of the world?s highest-paid rugby players could serve up nothing better than a slow, unappetising, attritional and, in the words of Brian Moore, ?sour? series. There was very little to commend any of the three Tests, except perhaps Finn Russell?s appearance in the third contest which livened things up a little. Otherwise, open, running rugby was conspicuous by its absence; flair was non-existent and international rugby?s TMO is the new VAR, only worse.

Anyone tuning in to watch rugby for the first time would have been seriously underwhelmed, yet most club matches, especially those outside of the top flight, regularly provide spectators with excitement week-in, week-out.

It would appear that rugby-playing skill was in short supply when Ben Mercer moved to France to add impetus to his labouring professional career, but his book, Fringes, is no less enjoyable, probably because it?s miles away from the pedestrian stuff we endured live from Cape Town over the past few weeks.

West Country-born, Mercer spent time at Bath?s respected academy, although he never made it into the senior XV, sidelining his burgeoning rugby career to read English Literature at Newcastle University. Upon graduation, he returned to the professional game, this time at Plymouth, plying his trade in the English second division.

Mercer offers several stark observations on top-flight rugby?s financial rewards, not least his assertion that average Premiership salaries are around ?150,000 a year, a figure skewed by a tiny number earning six- or seven times that. He suggests that second division salaries are significantly lower, probably ranging between ?6,000 and ?20,000.

Quite possibly because he expected more from the game ? not just financially ? Mercer accepts an offer to play for an amateur side in France (Stade Rouennais) which has ambitions to become a leading professional outfit in an area (Normandy) not renowned as a hot-bed of rugby.

Mercer has written a no-frills tale of life near the foot of the professional pyramid where the majority of players ply their trade, a place where earning a livelihood is determined as much by steering clear of injury as it is by playing well. In many respects it?s as gritty as the 1963 film, This Sporting Life, featuring Richard Harris as a rugby league player.

Fringes is not loaded with amusing snippets from rugby stars with whom Mercer has rubbed shoulders. Instead it?s an honest account of life as a lower-league rugby player operating a million miles away from the Lions Test series.


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