- The Rugby World in the Professional Era ed. by John Nauright and Tony Collins
In rugby union, "in the professional era" is another way to say "in the last twenty years." The advent of openly professional clubs in 1995 triggered considerable turbulence in men's rugby, with shockwaves felt worldwide at all levels of the sport. That year also marked a new era with the re-entry of South Africa to international rugby, as that country hosted the third Rugby World Cup.
While John Nauright and Tony Collins pitch the book as "the first to examine the effect that professionalism has had," not all of the chapters address that frame. The book offers a wide range of ideas and insights, some only tenuously linked to the advent of professionalism. As might be expected in an anthology of this sort, the quality is uneven, with some of the most interesting ideas arising at the fringes of the central theme, but the book is better for this flexibility. However, it advertises itself as "essential reading" for sport scholars, which is perhaps a little strong, especially for many North Americans who would need additional research to get a handle on some of the issues being discussed here.
The introduction acknowledges the need for more scholarship on women's rugby. This tip of the hat is not enough. The lack of a chapter on women's rugby, which in 2017 held its fifth World Cup, weakens the anthology. Part 1 consists of eight chapters themed as "the game—on and off the field." These address Irish rugby in the "Celtic Tiger" era, the New Zealand national imaginary of rugby players emerging from rural farms, the current complicated negotiation of race and ethnic identity in French rugby, the integration of Pacific Islanders into Australian society, and the impact of the professional era on Tonga, Samoa, and Fiji.
A strong chapter written by Farah Rangikoepa Palmer, the captain of the Black Ferns team that won the Women's Rugby World Cups in 1998 and 2002 and the current Maori representative on the New Zealand Rugby Board, uses the "professional era" frame to discuss the tensions that have developed as Maori rugby has emerged as a marketable global brand. One of these is the tradeoff for Maori rugby between going for either mana [End Page 263] (prestige) or tino rangatiratanga (self-determination). Renewed ties between players and tribal culture are mutually beneficial, although some question the Maori team's status as something very like a farm team for the All Blacks. Rich with insights, this chapter would be quite difficult for readers not already familiar with these complex political issues. Part 1 concludes with essays on the growth of rugby sevens and the men's Rugby World Cup as a global mega-event.
Part 2, "Rugby Cultures and Representation," is opened by Adam White and Eric Anderson, who discuss changes in the expression of masculinities in men's rugby. This is an important topic, but there is only a little rugby in this chapter, as Anderson traces over the main points of his theoretical model of "inclusive masculinity." The references flip back and forth between studies of British and North American rugby, but the article says little here that Anderson has not said elsewhere, missing the chance to branch out into a discussion of how gender is expressed in the rapidly growing network of gay men's clubs or in women's rugby.
The book finishes with three strong chapters on the ways in which South Africans are thinking through the complexities of the history of rugby in the apartheid era and since. These chapters touch on rugby as heritage commemoration, avant-garde theater, and rhetorical criticism. In a chapter that might be of considerable interest to public historians, Marizanne Grundlingh analyzes the way in which the Springbok Experience museum in Cape Town addresses and commemorates history and heritage. The museum seeks tangible material culture on which to build a historical consciousness of nonwhite rugby, much of which...