For years it was widely assumed rugby would not translate easily to stage and screen. With the odd exception – Up ’n’ Under, Stand Up and Fight and Invictus, the Clint Eastwood‑directed film of South Africa’s extraordinary 1995 Rugby World Cup triumph starring Morgan Freeman and Matt Damon – few have felt the need to apply theatrical war paint to help the game woo a wider audience.
Suddenly all that is changing. Entering stage left are not just one or two but three intriguing rugby‑related productions, each hoping to capitalise on the extra interest set to be generated by the World Cup in Japan this month.
What tales they are. Few sports have ever delivered a more jaw-dropping upset than Japan achieved at South Africa’s expense four years ago this month. The tale of the Brave Blossoms’ stunning 34-32 pool win against the Springboks is now the subject of a soon-to-be-released movie entitled The Brighton Miracle, with the highly regarded New Zealand actor Temuera Morrison playing Eddie Jones.
Give or take the Kiwi twang in Morrison/Jones’s accent in the promotional trailers, the Once Were Warriors and Star Wars actor has clearly worked hard to channel his inner Eddie, even down to the latter’s preferred tie and jumper combo. At least one former Wallaby has also praised his interpretation of Jones’s “stink eye” which, to the uninitiated, is the hard stare reserved for any player, opposing coach or unfortunate critic who displeases him.
As recently as a couple of weeks ago Jones had not seen the finished version. “I heard he was not the most likeable chap but that’s what you get if you want to attain some of these levels of perfection,” Morrison told the Japan Times last week. “That’s what you’ve got to be. Normally I play characters that come from outer space but this one is a real-deal person.”
If the writer/director, Max Mannix, is to be believed, however, the film is essentially “about mindset change and having the courage to be yourself”. Whether it fills the multiplexes of southern Africa remains to be seen but it will surely be huge in Japan.
For anyone who witnessed the Brighton shock first hand, the story of how a great sporting upset came to pass on England’s south coast is truly an end-of-the-pier show not to be missed.
Kiwis of a certain vintage will also be tempted to wallow in Dan Carter: A Perfect 10 that opened in New Zealand last week. We are not talking here about another sequel to Get Carter, the 1971 gangster thriller starring Michael Caine, but the slightly less gritty account of how a young lad from Southbridge on New Zealand’s south island grew up to be the greatest fly-half of his generation. They might have been better off simply sticking on a replay of the second Test between the All Blacks and the British & Irish Lions in Wellington in 2005 when Carter displayed all the mastery of a latter‑day Barry John and gave perhaps the supreme all-round performance by a No 10 in the modern era.
Carter was glorious to behold in his pomp, if slightly less compelling behind a microphone. Had the film-makers chosen instead to fly to Wales and make Andy Powell: The Movie they would have shattered all box office records.
That said, it pays to remember that not everything good is judged by bums on seats, increased popcorn sales or sheer weight of internet hits. It is entirely possible, for example, that a new play by my esteemed Scottish rugby writing colleague Rob Robertson is not instantly destined to storm Broadway nor generate a Hamilton‑style frenzy at the box office in Hawick when it is performed next week.
Then again, who knows? Robertson has picked a quite wonderful subject for his latest work – namely the late, great Bill McLaren. Until his retirement from commentating in 2002 McLaren was the undisputed Voice of Rugby but there was much, much more to him than that. A devoted family man, he endured a tough war, subsequently nearly died of tuberculosis, lost a daughter to cancer and, as a teacher, taught generations of Borders kids to make the best of themselves.
“It really is an amazing story,” says his grandson Rory Lawson, the former Scotland scrum-half, hopeful that a wider audience will once again be inspired by McLaren. “The youngsters of today have so much choice about what they do.
“Creating things that are meaningful and can engage them is important. Stories do that. We’re all going to enjoy watching the World Cup but that only prospers if the grassroots game is feeding in the next generation.”
With Borders legends such as Jim Telfer and Jim Renwick set to be among the audience, how would Bill have viewed the project? “He would probably be mortified at the thought of there being a play about him; that was the sort of person he was,” says Lawson. “But within the family we appreciate there is a story to be told.
“When I mention his name anywhere in the world I find he has friends in every country, many of whom he never met but who credit him with their enjoyment of the sport. And where better to hold the premiere than Hawick? As Papa famously used to say: ‘Every day away from Hawick is a day wasted.’” If this play goes well, they will be dancing in the streets nationwide.
Bill McLaren, The Voice of Rugby is being performed at Heart of Hawick from 10-13 Sep.
Singing the blues
There was a fuss the other day when Gary Lineker made an innocuous on-air joke about his bald fellow Match of the Day pundits Alan Shearer and Danny Murphy. This Friday, however, the former Newcastle legend Shearer will be temporarily ousted as the owner of the highest-profile chrome dome in the north-east by Sergio Parisse, whose Italian side are due to face England in their final warm-up game before the Rugby World Cup.
If Parisse plays, he will draw level with Brian O’Driscoll as the second-most-capped player in major international Test history, behind only Richie McCaw. If this does prove to be his last appearance on UK soil in a blue Italian jersey, a commemorative pre-match photograph with Shearer is the least of the accolades he deserves.
And another thing…
Slowly but surely the Rugby Football Union is waking up to the fact that not all England supporters live in and around the M25. Staging international rugby outside London is crucial to attracting new fans who might not be able to afford the long, increasingly expensive trek to Twickenham, to which matchday train journeys can often be a proper test of character. Here’s hoping this Friday’s game against Italy at St James’ Park is not the last time England’s national team visit their friends in the north.