Three of the best: great rugby reads
The Reign of King Henry
Graham Henry revolutionised the All Blacks, Gregor Paul argues cogently in The Reign of King Henry. Following the disappointing John Hart and John Mitchell regimes, the All Blacks mighty aura of the Invincibles and Meads-Lochore eras was in peril. Aided by fellow ex school- teacher Wayne "Lazarus" Smith and Steve Hansen, Ted led from the top, developing a culture of respect and excellence. Henry led multiculturalism in New Zealand, unleashing the potential of Maori and Polynesian players. This was most obviously seen in reconnecting the All Blacks with haka Ka Mate, commissioning Derek Lardelli's haka Kapa O Pango, and appointing the All Blacks' first Samoan skipper, Tana Umaga. Though the 2007 book came out before Cardiff, All Blacks' performances in Lyon and Paris "were about the best ever seen". Paul argued the smashing of opposition showcased the collective faith. "There was an intensity and speed in defence that screamed out just how much pride there was in the jersey."
Jonah: My Story
Jonah Lomu with Warren Adler
Jonah: My Story has it all. A freakish athlete. A tragic illness. A hardcore Once Were Warriors upbringing. An uncle decapitated by a Samoan gang. A love story. And everything else. First published in 2004, then updated in 2013, Jonah Lomu's amazing journey is beautifully evoked by Warren Adler. Adler captures the distinctive voice of the Tongan Kiwi who created those indelible images in the 11 jersey. The cinematic narrative is interspersed with the first-person perspectives of the era's characters who worked with Lomu. "It's almost frightening to think what he could have been had he not played so much of his career with a huge medical handbrake," Doc Mayhew succinctly puts it. Favourite bits? The stories include Lomu's total insomnia before the 1995 World Cup semi-final against England ("I was the angriest man on earth"). His gargantuan appetite. His protesting French nuclear testing. His close rapport with team manager Colin Meads. You'll have to read the whole thing; I was riveted from start to finish.
Interviewing Pinetree about his pioneering work helping people with intellectual disabilities out into the community felt like a privilege. Not only is Meads a volcanic character, he's got a massive heart. Meads, published in 2002 by poet Brian Turner, covers the lock's community volunteering, his unpaid playing, and the rest of his storied life. Turner reminds us the French call him Le Monstre Sacre. Meads certainly gave it everything on the field. He played with a broken arm against the Springboks, and came back from a broken back incurred when he pranged his Land Rover. Interestingly, given Meads' latter career as All Blacks manager, he says players do generally read and listen to the media. Meads is resplendent with evocative photos. As Jonah Lomu writes in My Story, he's one of the most genuine people you will ever meet.