The internet for a rugby fan is an arena largely for debate, discussion, and sometimes just pure aggressive rants. But no matter how different or antagonizing fans are to one another, we know at the end of the day that we are a world in union. Much of the values at rugby’s core (camaraderie between opposition teams and fans, respect for referees, the unforgettable bonds you forge in teams to name a few) make you stand up, clutch the badge of your favourite rugby jersey, and be proud to be in the sport. Rugby is such a useful tool for bettering the lives of many, and it is inspirational rugby stories like the ones below which epitomise why we love rugby.
South Africa Rugby Team 1995
Undoubtabley, the most famous example of an inspirational tale from our sport is the Springbok team that won the 1995 world cup. The Boks threw heaps of passion at a mesmeric New Zealand side containing a Jonah Lomu in his prime to claim the Webb Ellis trophy, but it was what happened off the field which made the achievement so special. A nation which was split from the bitter aftertaste of apartheid was finally beginning to unite after seeing the Nelsen Mandella backed Springboks advance through the competition. White and black were in unison like never before in South Africa. The story was made into the blockbuster, ‘Invictus’ which attracted the major actors of Matt Damon and Morgan Freeman, but the main memory rugby fans have of this triumph was the iconic image of Mandella shaking the hand of South Africa captain Francois Pinnear before awarding him the World Cup.
The video of this story starts by showing Harpengden winger Pattison looking dangerous around the park. As the narrator says, it is quite hard to notice that Charlie is playing with a significant disadvantage; he only has one hand. Charlie shows the fierce spirit of a rugby player by not allowing this to matter. He captained his School’s First XV, and continued to county and regional trials. He often hears opposition pre-match planning to ‘target the bloke with one hand’, but this is a challenge that the 20 year old relishes. His determination, and ‘get on with the job’ attitude are surely characteristics which every rugby man or woman aspires to have.
School of Hard Knocks 2012
For those who don’t know, the School of Hard Knocks is a television series hosted by rugby legends Will Greenwood and Scott Quinnell annually. The iconic pair travel to struggling areas with high unemployment and crime. Dealing with tough characters with horrific pasts, they assemble a rugby team designed to get their lives on track, get a job, and learn the values of rugby. Although the program does a lot of good every year, none of them come close to matching the feats of the 2012 team. This year, the history of some of the squad was eye-watering (such as Pedro, whose stepfather regularly beat him leaving scars across his head, and once even tore the whole skin off his back) but the bonds they formed were equally eye-watering for positive reasons. Most the team got jobs after the programme, and they certainly looked like the best rugby team the School of Hard Knocks has ever assembled. I actually managed to meet a crop of this team, when playing for West London II XV against Haringey’s II XV, and they were all the nicest blokes you could find in the sport.
Lomu is certainly in the top 5 (at least) of all time legends in the game. He revolutionised the game, showing that big men can play on the wing, and be successful. The All Black took the world by storm at world cups, including his bulldozing of Mike Catt in 1995. But what makes the man a true great of the sport, was his uplifting response to his severe kidney problems. Lomu was told by top Kidneys specialists that he would face life in a wheel chair, which he admits he did “not accept”. With every ounce of character the New Zealand international had, Jonah went from being chained to machine for hours on end, to actually playing professional rugby, let along walk again. Lomu’s stint at the Cardiff Blues must have seemed like a miracle to his former Kidney specialists, but it just shows the mental perseverance Lomu showed is something we can all be motivated by.
This one is technically a Rugby League story, but is one of the most inspirational sport stories I have seen, and therefore could not be omitted from this list. David has cerebral palsy, but has a life motto of ‘you gotta wipe out that you have a disability, and be hard on yourself’. The Australian Rugby League fan has certainly done so, with an endless list of achievements that doctors said he would never be able to do. He can do strenuous exercises, get his driving licence, and much more. David also plays rugby league, and when he is not playing in the Physical Disability Rugby League, he trains with a regular side. The coaches admit he has enriched the club with his presence at training, admitting that he inspires the other players to use every breath they can in training. David epitomizes the rugby determination which all the above stories have, and show that rugby’s hard-graft attitude can accomplish huge achievements.
This has been just a handful of rugby’s array of inspirational stories. If in demand, perhaps this could become an occasional feature on the site, so that we can remember exactly how significant members of our sport are.