We’re rugby mad in this house. Not quite all of us – daughter number 1 is more of a league fan, but she’ll watch a game if the rest of us are. I’m also a sports biography fan, so for Christmas, the husband acquired not one, but two biographies for me – Graham Henry’s “Final Word” and Richie McCaw’s “The Open Side”. Both have proved to be interesting reads, with some similarities and a lot of differences.
The first and main difference would be the writing style. Greg McGee wrote Richie’s book and it seems as though Richie’s voice shines through. The style is consistent throughout and very engaging. Bob Howitt, the respected sports journalist and author, co-wrote Graham Henry’s book and this one is a lot patchier. There are two distinct voices in the book to me – I presume Henry’s and Howitt’s – but it was jarring to this reader and made for a stilted read. I was also annoyed at the constant changing of tenses throughout this book.
Another difference is that I felt at the end of Richie’s book that I kind of knew Richie, the person. At the end of Graham’s book, I knew a lot more about rugby and his achievements and career, his management style, and his strengths and weaknesses, but didn’t feel that I knew him. Maybe that is just a difference in their personalities coming through – perhaps Richie is just a more open, engaging person? Or perhaps it was the writers and the way they presented the two men? The one moment that really shone through to me in Henry’s book is the retelling of how his future son-in-law pulled him out of his despair after the 2007 World Cup. This gave me a feel of the personal Graham rather than just coach Ted.
I hadn’t realised what a good sportsman Graham Henry is, or how flexible and adaptable he is. His public persona is that of an old style school headmaster – dry, humourless and a disciplinarian. In fact, it becomes abundantly clear that he has a sense of humour, is driven and harder on himself than any other critic can be. This shines through more from Richie’s book than his own ironically.
Richie McCaw is also a driven individual with a clear plan for success and an ongoing work ethic. He is living proof that having a road map and written goals are a key driver for success. He also is obviously incredibly hardworking and diligent – and this isn’t so much from what he says as what he doesn’t say, or in the casual offhand remark about something he has done which would just about cripple a normal person. I think the whole nation knew his foot was injured when he played in the 2011 final, but no-one, including himself, realised that it was broken in 3 places! He played through the pain to achieve his goal, and it is an example of his courage and leadership that he was able to do this.
Both books retold the 2007 Rugby World Cup quarter final loss to France, and its aftermath, and the 2011 RWC final win against France in a lot of detail. It’s quite different though – Richie’s from the on-field perspective and Henry’s from the coaches’ box. There are amazing similarities between their recollections of most events, but it’s interesting to read them back-to-back and get the differing perspectives. I’ve certainly found out a lot more about rugby and am now strangely keen to go back and re-watch that disastrous quarter final so I can see it through their eyes. For anyone who is after the detail of just how badly the referee got it wrong on that day, Graham Henry’s book is a total eye-opener.
The other really interesting section, aside from the actual Rugby World Cup game retellings, is the story of Graham Henry standing for re-selection as the All Blacks coach. This is interesting both from Henry’s perspective but even more so from McCaw’s. McCaw is analytical, fair to both Henry and Robbie Deans, both of whom had been influential figures in his career, but very clear as to whom he thought was the best candidate for the job. He manages to display loyalty to both men, but detaches very well to present a compelling argument as o why the NZRU made the right choice.
Both books were a gripping read, for different reasons. I now feel like I know a LOT more about rugby than I did. I would recommend both of these books to anyone who is a rugby fan. If you’re just after a sports biography, I would go with the Richie McCaw book. If you’re after a retelling of Graham Henry’s rugby career and a dissection of the 2007 Rugby World Cup quarter final, Final Word is the book for you. But in both cases, the retelling of the 2011 Rugby World Cup Final is absolutely riveting – tension-filled and detailed. Even knowing the outcome, I was on the edge of my seat throughout both versions. And now I want to go back and watch that game too! Graham Henry’s book, I would recommend. Richie McCaw’s book I would highly recommend.