The back cover text of Rugby Revealed describes it as “the definitive guide to the modern game”. This describes what it is but how the book came to be written and what it represents for rugby is so much more.
For nine months this book took over our lives as my co-author Eilidh Donaldson and I set about writing our first book. From a casual conversation on Skype to a unique project in the era of professional sport, this is our story of Rugby Revealed.
The Aim of Rugby Revealed
Gavin Hickie (GH): The book is about trying to help players in emerging rugby nations like those I coach in the US get a good foundation in the game. I see all this potential and a real thirst for knowledge so I wanted to show players and coaches how to become professionals, the work it requires and how to play the game if they want to progress. We had made a good start with LineoutCoach but Rugby Revealed was our chance to take it to a much larger audience and to reach our potential.
Eilidh Donaldson (ED): I had always wanted to write a book but I never expected it to feature props. They do say write about what you know so looking back now having worked with Gavin on LineoutCoach for nearly four years and having been a fan of rugby for a lot longer it seems like a simple decision to write a rugby book. When the chance came from Bloomsbury we both wanted to write a guide that would engage with a younger audience and feature their rugby heroes to inspire them.
What Rugby Revealed Delivers
ED: To have gone from a scribbled outline agreed over Skype to holding the finished article in our hands is incredible. I think we delivered on all the aspects we set out to achieve from our original list. It is a different approach to other coaching books on the market, it is a book for players and coaches, it is a guide to the modern game, it features the first generation of fully professional players inspiring the next generation.
GH: I’m really proud of the finished product. It looks great, it explains the game in a clear and simple way, and has over 100 top names sharing their advice. I hope it will act as a blueprint which delivers new and improved players and coaches for the game.
Assembling the Rugby Revealed Team
ED: We had an outline for our text and a running order for the book (which would change, a lot) but we wanted to start with the fun stuff, the interviews. We started with our ‘gang of four’ from the LineoutCoach site which featured prop Martin Castrogiovanni, fly half Andy Goode, flanker Shane Jennings, and lock Jim Hamilton and compiled a long wish list of players and coaches we would like to talk to for the book. I had the idea of getting their attention by making a ‘Panini sticker’ for each one.
GH: To begin with I used my contacts in the game from my playing days and got a few replies along the lines of ‘sure Gav, what do you need’. We were delighted that people saw the potential in our project and were willing to help. Then we tried LinkedIN which is actually where Eilidh and I met. Some more names came on board. So we tried Facebook and Twitter and other platforms and our list of contributors grew. We never imagined it would grow so big. It took on a life of its own with players bringing on board others. The global rugby community really kicked in and delivered for us.
The Size of the Rugby Revealed Squad
ED: It’s all Gavin’s fault. Our plan for the book was to write a guide to the modern game which included interviews with a few players, maybe a coach or two, to give the insider’s perspective into the world of elite rugby. It quickly became apparent that the project really appealed to current players and coaches who were looking to help explain the game to the next generation. Before we knew it we were at around 70 contributors and Gav said “let’s go for 100”. So we did.
GH: I should stress it was always about quality not quantity for us. We wanted the best players and coaches and we got nearly everyone we set out to talk to. We looked to get a balance across positions, ages, countries, clubs, level of experience and styles of play and I believe we achieved that. A mixture of luck and persistence assembled the greatest squad ever and a rugby IQ that is off the charts.
GH: Writing isn’t without it challenges, getting it out of your head and onto paper wasn’t always as easy as I would have liked. I always had a clear vision for the book to focus on which helped but the structure proved surprisingly tricky.
Of course you want to write the best book you can but having the added pressure of representing the words of others, especially when it is some of the best in the sport, was overwhelming at times. Now the book is complete I feel we have done them justice and hope they are proud to be part of this project.
ED: Gavin and I are based in different countries (US/UK) and we’ve overcome the obstacles that time differences, job demands and lives can throw in your path to work on LineoutCoach. Even owning puppies.* To write a book is a step up from writing blogs. To write a book featuring interviews with players from 14 countries took the logistics to another level.
We put our knowledge of technology to communicate to good use when talking to contributors. Phone, skype, email, text, Viber, Instagram, Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIN were all used to connect with and interview the players and coaches at all hours of the day and night in locations across the world.
Most Unusual Interview
ED: The one that really sticks in my mind is talking to Jamie Cudmore. We were speaking on the phone (hands free) while he drove back from training at Clermont when he suddenly stopped the car to go and buy bread. He took his phone with him so I heard the baker, who was a real Clermont fan, say as the team had won at the weekend Jamie’s bread was free. When Jamie got back to the car he picked up our conversation where he’d left off. What a pro.
GH: It’s got to be the All Blacks I spoke to ahead of their game against the USA in Chicago. We had been trying to schedule time with some of the players but they were coming off the Rugby Championship and going into the Autumn Internationals so it was proving tricky. I finally arranged to meet them at the Captain’s run before the big game. Of course my plane to Chicago was delayed by a storm which hit the city and shut down the roads from the airport.
I knew time was running out to talk to them so headed straight to the team hotel. The lobby was full of fans ahead of the biggest rugby game in America’s history and the players were mobbed. I had been due to talk to Jerome Kaino, Conrad Smith, Beauden Barrett and Aaron Smith but when I saw how crazy everything was I thought I’d missed my chance. Thankfully Jerome Kaino had agreed to meet me in the lobby and I eventually found him. In spite all the distractions Jerome and myself sat down and started chatting about rugby. Following our conversation, Beauden Barrett shared a few minutes with me before he headed off to the Chicago Bulls game. I was able to reschedule Conrad and Aaron for the next morning and was also able to meet All Blacks Forward Coach Mike Cron for the first time as well as All Blacks Skills Coach Mick Byrne who coached me as a player with Leinster.
The All Blacks players and staff went above and beyond accommodating me despite the demands on their time.
ED: Writing a book is really hard work and 80,000 words is a lot. It is one of the most challenging things I’ve ever done in my life but I loved it. Gavin was the rugby expert so I represented the new player’s perspective and I certainly learned a lot about how to play the game which I hope readers do too.
GH: I have played the game and I coach the game and I still came out of this process having learned so much. As a coach you are always learning. I got a new perspective on some aspects and a great insight into how others approach certain situations. For experienced players and coaches alike, Rugby Revealed definitely offers an extra few percent which they can add to their game.
Reaction to the Book
GH: When you’ve put so much work into something you want to get a positive reaction and so far it has been great. I was in the US camp with the Eagles players and coaches who had featured in the book when the advanced copy arrived and they were really happy with the finished result.
ED: People love the format which uses pictures of the players and coaches featured in the book and simple checklists to help players remember key points. Having such great names involved gives this book a real edge and that’s the message we are getting from those who have seen the book. They want to know how to play the game like the pros and with Rugby Revealed they can.
The Next Steps
ED: There is a lot of rugby in my future. I’m going to the Rugby World Cup warm up game between Ireland and Wales in August and then the likely pool decider between Ireland and France at the Millennium Stadium in October. In between, I’ll be promoting the book and writing for LineoutCoach.
GH: At the moment we are busy contacting all the players and coaches to thank them, and working to get the word out about the book and the story behind it. I’d love to do another book, this isn’t ‘one and done’ for us.
ED: Never again! Well maybe just a sevens book in time for Rio next year…
The Final Word
ED: Thank you to all those who helped with the book – the players and coaches who had faith in us, those who hooked us up and helped us out, those who supported us through the process. You made this possible.
GH: During the process of writing the book I was talking with Alex Magleby and some coaches of other sports. Coach ‘Mags’ made a really good point that has stuck with us both – “no other sport could write a book which features so many top players and coaches in one publication”. For me this is the essence of rugby.
I believe the statement is true. No budget could have bought our contributors list, and not one of the 100+ names you see listed in the book ever asked for money to talk to us. Whether it’s the fact that rugby is still in it’s relative infancy as a professional sport or it is down to the culture of the game, we firmly believe only rugby could have freely shared the knowledge of a generation of players to help inspire those who follow.
Gavin Hickie Bio
Founder of popular rugby website, LineoutCoach.com, Gavin Hickie is passionate about helping young players and coaches reach their rugby potential. Head Coach of Dartmouth College and Head Coach of the USA Rugby All Americans, Gavin has over 25 years’ experience in the sport, including a decade at the top of the game as a professional player for Leinster, London Irish, Worcester and Leicester Tigers, along with representing Ireland at various levels in 15s and 7s. In addition to coaching, Gavin shares his expertise as an analyst for leading rugby publications.
“Rugby Revealed is about today’s winners inspiring the future generation of champions. This isn’t theory, this is practical experience earned on the field. It’s about players and coaches teaching aspiring players and safeguarding the game which we love.”
Eilidh Donaldson Bio
Eilidh Donaldson is the creator of sports news hub Tweetsport, regular blogger, passionate rugby supporter and an integral part of the LineoutCoach team. Her consultancy Ginger Midget helps grow businesses in the sports sector.
“We have been humbled and overwhelmed by the positive reaction of all those involved in rugby and their outstanding support, honesty, and generosity. Their passion for the sport has been truly inspiring. To see the idea of the rugby family put to the test and pass with flying colours is the most satisfying part of writing the book.”