Given the popularity of the sport worldwide, there seem to be surprisingly few films about rugby.
- We all know Invictus (2009). Featuring Nelson Mandela as South African President, enlisting the national rugby team to unite the fragmented nation – and winning the 1995 Rugby World Cup. Director: Clint Eastwood. Stars: Morgan Freeman, Matt Damon, Tony Kgoroge, Patrick Mofokeng
- Old Scores is a 1991 film jointly produced by New Zealand and Wales about the two countries' mutual national sport of rugby union. It is notable for the appearance of a large number of legendary Welsh and New Zealand international rugby players in supporting roles. Old Scores was primarily intended for theater release in New Zealand but was shown as a television movie in Wales.
- More unusual is: Walk Like a Man, full title Walk Like a Man: A Real Life Drama About Blood, Sweat & Queers. This is a 2008 Australian documentary film about gay rugby union, co-produced and co-directed by Patricia Zagarella and Jim Morgison and narrated by former Australian rugby league international Ian Roberts.
It was filmed in San Francisco, Sydney, Australia and New York, and focuses on preparation for the 2006 final in New York of the Bingham Cup (the Mark Kendall Bingham Memorial Tournament) which is effectively the World Cup of Gay Rugby Union. It’s named after Mark Bingham, a noted gay rugby player for the San Francisco Fog, and a hero of the 9/11 terror attacks, one of the passengers on United Airlines Flight 93, who reportedly stormed the cockpit and prevented the hijackers from reaching their eventual target.
- Cheerleader Queens (a.k.a. I'm a Lady) is a 2003 Thai film directed by Poj Arnon. It tells of four kathoey (a Thai term for an effeminate man or a transgender woman) who move to a Bangkok high school from a rural town and try to join the school cheerleading team, but are rejected because of their sexuality.
They then join the school’s struggling rugby team, befriend other players and eventually score in a major game. Finally the form a new cheerleading team and teach the finals of the national cheerleading contest.
- And then there was Bakgat!, a 2008 South African teen comedy directed by Henk Pretorius. Hardly profound, but high school rugby star Werner dumps his girlfriend so he can better focus on the sport. To get even, she bets her friends she can make a star out of Wimpie, the dorkiest boy in school by pretending he is her boyfriend. Sadly, this film has two sequels.
- Forever Strong (2008). Director: Ryan Little, with Sean Astin, Sean Faris, Penn Badgley, Cary Cole. The 17-year-old star of the rugby team his father coaches, ends in a juvenile detention centre, and eventually has to play against the team his father coaches in the national championships.
Rugby league is even less featured in film.
- Most notable was: This Sporting Life (1963), a British feature film based on a novel by David Storey (a former professional rugby player), telling the story of a rugby league player who isn’t as successful in his romantic life as on the rugby field, living in Wakefield, a mining area of Yorkshire. It starred Rachel Roberts, William Hartnell, Alan Badel, and was the first starring role for Richard Harris, who won the Best Actor Award at the 1963 Cannes Film Festival for this performance.
- Monty Python’s The Meaning of Life is perhaps not the greatest Monty Python film, but it does contain the only rugby story. A public school boy is caught daydreaming in the sex education class and punished by having to play rugby “against the masters”. As a Bach Toccata and Fugue plays, we see a group of grown men thundering over a team of little boys, a scene which melds into actual warfare.
- Jo's Boy (2011). Directed by Philippe Guillard. A rugby drama very successful in France. Jo Canavaro, a rugby legend, raises his 13 year old son in a small village where the locals are much impressed by Les All Blacks, explaining: "Do you know what it's like in New Zealand? You play rugby or you're a sheep.” He is ashamed to find the boy is brilliant at maths but useless on the rugby field, and resolves to build a great rugby team, against the wishes of the village and his son.
- School Wars: Hero (2004) is a Japanese drama based on a true story, in which a former Japanese international rugby player, Yoshiharu Yamaguchi, turns around the fortunes of a failing Kyoto high school, beginning with their rugby team, which includes the most disruptive students.
- Grand Slam (1978 TV Movie). Director: John Hefin. Stars: Windsor Davies, Hugh Griffith, Dewi Morris, Sion Probert etc. A comedy about a group of Welsh rugby fans descending on Paris for the final game of the season.
Draw your own conclusions
It's interesting that while there are so many films about football, there are so very few about any form of rugby, and that of these few, two are about gay players or cheerleaders.
You may draw your own conclusions about what that says about the game.
Is rugby ‘a hooligan’s game played by gentlemen’?
The perfect rugby player
Professor MA Simpson is Health24's CyberShrink. A South African psychiatrist, he qualified in medicine and in psychiatry in Britain. He has been a senior academic, researcher, and Professor in several countries. Read more of his columns.