Barbarian FC

Tongan Bear was the ringleader – a ‘tough $£#&’ who devised the signals, the special handshake, the celebration. There were drones, analysts, and a 92-year-old head honcho. They came from 12 countries and overcame a pin badge shortage to crush their opposition. This is how a man known as ‘Batman’, led the Barbarians to victory.

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GrassrootsSimon Campbell
Ian Williams

When Ian finally stepped onto the training field, Owen, only a few yards ahead, turned back to jokingly give him stick for being late. Before the words left his mouth, he saw his friend on one knee; then, a second later, collapsed onto the turf. He rushed to his side, but little did Owen know there was nothing he could do. Ian was gone.

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LegendsSimon Campbell
Heidelberg

Beneath the gothic turrets of a glowering medieval castle, in an ancient cobbled town that’s inspired Twain, Turner and Nobel Prize winners, plays out a rugby tale with so many twists even brothers Grimm couldn’t make it up. Welcome to Heidelberg.

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World, Most PopularSimon Campbell
Neath RFC

The chip van man at the Gnoll is trying to make things work. He’s going to give it another season and see what happens. The £14 electricity bill isn’t helping, margins are tight, but he’ll persevere, for now. Besides, it’s Neath v Pontypool today, so there should be a good crowd.

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GrassrootsSimon Campbell
London Welsh

Just four games into the London Welsh revival, they lose 17-7 to UCS Old Boys on a ‘small, slanting, pitch’. It’s not in the script. Coach Cai Griffiths is philosophical about defeat: “I wanted to rip people’s faces off.” The journey back is going to be a long one. 

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GrassrootsSimon Campbell
Cornish Pirates

One-by-one, the councillors stood up to say their piece. Twenty, thirty, maybe forty of them. Some were for, some against. Some eloquent, some, less so. Then, the vote. All 123 councillors, a single vote apiece, to decide the future of Cornish rugby. It started with a single ‘For’, but then, one after the other, the ‘Againsts’ rolled in.  

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Coventry Rugby

It’s survived World Wars, industrial collapse and royal insults, but Coventry has always shrugged its shoulders and got on with it. Its rugby club is no different. Once, only hours from extinction, it now turns over £1.6m, regularly pulls in crowds of over 2,000 (in the third tier), has internationals both playing and coaching, and has run away with the league title. And that’s before we mention UB40 and Steps.

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GrassrootsSimon Campbell
Tommy Bowe

The lift doors opened at the Hilton and Rala, the bag man, gagged and bound on a luggage trolley, was pushed out onto the ground floor packed with Irish fans – that was how Tommy Bowe and Ireland prepared for the biggest game in Irish history.

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LegendsSimon Campbell
Sir Bill Beaumont

England were terrible. Two Wooden Spoons in four years, without a title since 1963, and dominated by Wales. But captain Bill Beaumont fancied their chances and began a quest that would take in a Grand Slam, a sports quiz show, world rugby’s governing body, and make him a knight of the realm.

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Topsy Ojo

Two Tests, two tries, against the All Blacks. Without even mentioning the 73 scores for London Irish, Topsy Ojo already has enough for a thousand after-dinner speeches. Alternatively, he could just hand the floor to Eden Ojo, now there’s a talker.

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Mike Rayer

Steel worker, garage manager, mobile crane salesman, international, European Cup finalist, world’s first transfer fee rugby player (probably), American rugby galactico (almost), All Black beater (nearly), Don King victim, Cardiff legend, beer muse, and England’s longest-standing director of rugby – life has never been dull for Mike Rayer.

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LegendsSimon Campbell
John Dawes

When people talk of the ‘Welsh way’ of playing rugby, a key architect of it, a science teacher from the valleys, rarely gets mentioned. But when John Dawes received a letter from the Welsh Rugby Union saying his London-based team needed to appoint a coach, he stepped up, changing the face of a club and country forever.

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New Orleans

Situated along the east bank of the Mississippi River in south eastern Louisiana and nestled between the lowlands of the swamps, marshes and Lake Ponchatrain, lies the city known for bringing the wild and mystery of the night to life. New Orleans is many things to many people, but now it’s got something new to be proud of: a professional rugby team.

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WorldSimon Campbell
Kosovo

After Yugoslav and Serbian military and paramilitary forces swept through Kosovo, destroying more than 500 villages, the sky was filled with NATO air strikes, and millions of Kosovar Albanians were displaced. Among them was five-year-old Jerinë and her family.

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WorldSimon Campbell
Chesham

To prove it’s a proper rugby club, an RFU shield hangs on the door of the repurposed garden shed. It’s not the most obvious place to find the country’s most capped coaching team, but then a lot of great things are built in sheds.

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Czech Republic

Nyrsko in the Czech Republic counts a farmhand who ‘predicted’ World War Three among its claims to fame. Now the small town in the shadows of the Bohemian Forest, also has a rugby club.

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WorldSimon Campbell
Swaziland

The impact propelled Michael Collinson forward in his car seat. The giant bull landed on the roof, forcing it down on top of his neck, severing his spinal chord. A ‘perfect’ shot. Instantly, it made him a paraplegic. He died three times that night.

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WorldSimon Campbell
Graham Dawe

“I do struggle with cocky 19-year-olds. You want to say to them: ‘you got something special in your heels that makes you bounce around like that?’ Just calm down. Kyran Bracken was cocky, he thought he was fun. I didn’t take kindly to that.”

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