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Stand Up And Fight by Alan English

Release date: 19th May, 2005
Publisher: Yellow Jersey Press

List Price: £10.00
Our Price: £7.00
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Stand up and Fight
By Alan English
Yellow Jersey Press price: £7.00 (Saving 30% on rrp)

Immediately following the World Cup in 2003, several rugby-themed books and dvds were made ready for publication almost as soon as the final whistle had blown. They sold well for a number of reasons, not least because the memory of the matches and the tournament's unique atmosphere managed to combine with a sense that a special sporting event had just ended. Every aspect of the World Cup was still fresh in the mind. It was an easy sell.

Imagine, then, writing a book about a rugby match which took place in Ireland in 1978; of an historic duel which last produced a conclusive result in 1963. No extensive filmed highlights of the battle exist and most people's memories of the late seventies are still in black and white, yet the match result is recalled by millions.

It took Alan English three years, "a real labour of love", to write this excellent book and in so doing, capture the atmosphere, the character of both sides and the flow of the game on 31 October 1978 when Munster, an Irish representative side, beat the mighty All Blacks.

English's understanding of the game's place in rugby history stems from the fact that he is a native of Limerick, the location for this epic match. It is useful, therefore, that he provides an historic perspective by tracing the growth of rugby in the town, in what may at first glance have appeared a less than fertile breeding ground. In the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries however, rugby, he says, "lifted the city off its knees. It made its way into the worst of places and offered up a little joy."

The story is told not as a match report, but through the words of the players, coaches and officials, one of whom, touch judge Johnny Cole, managed to sneak off the pitch with the match ball stuffed up his jersey after the All Black wing, Bryan Williams, a lawyer, handed it over to him. Arriving in the dressing room, Cole was accosted by Munster's assistant treasurer who asked him for the "three pounds and four shillings you owe for the ball."

As with all legends, this account is disputed, in this instance by one of the book's central characters, Munster prop Gerry McLoughlin, who claims the ball was kicked over the wall of his cousin's yard where it was captured by her brother who was stood on a ladder watching the game for free.

Aside from such inevitable levity (the match was played in Ireland), the book captures the intensity of battle; McLoughlin in particular provides a unique insight into life at the sharp end of top flight rugby. "Most people haven't got a clue what happens in the scrum," he says, "÷the best position hurts you. The blood is rushing to your head. You're in a pain zone. But you know the other guy is suffering more÷And then he gives. Half an inch is all you need."

The All Blacks respected Munster, but even after driving at them with wave after wave of attack, midway through the second half, the New Zealand players, including their captain Graham Mourie, knew the game was up. He tried to change his tactics on the hoof, but Munster went on to win 12-0. Despite the ready availability of filmed archives, by the time the reader reaches the final page, he feels as though he was present at the match, just like the 100,000 others who claim to have been there too - 90,000 of whom are, according to McLoughlin, "bloody liars."

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