There is Rugby Union: the fast, compelling, TV-friendly combat sport in which sponsored gladiators are sold on their ability to crash into each other at top speed, and sometimes even to avoid each other and score. And then there’s rugger.

Rugger was once the serious version of rugby, more than a mere game, a fierce contact-sport developed in Victorian public schools to forge manly and unshakeable character. For a hundred years boys played rugger and made themselves into men. They also drank too much beer and took their trousers down in public.

Richard Beard sets out to examine this contradiction by revisiting his seven former rugby clubs in four different countries. He meets Booker prize-winning authors and former England hookers, explores rugby’s rivalry with soccer, its surprising attraction for nonconformists, and its unlikely role in organised crime. All while trying to get himself a game.

This is Beard’s quest into his rugby-playing past, where he’s lived the sport in many of its varied forms. By the end of his wayward journey, he almost qualifies to judge whether rugger has achieved what the Victorians always intended, and made him a better man.

‘The book rugby has been waiting for … a likeable, literate and landmark tour-de-force.’
– Frank Keating

‘Richard Beard’s journey to the heart of rugby captures the soul of the game. Hugely enjoyable.’
– John Inverdale

‘A rich and pointed and yet loving trawl through the heroic undercard of rugby.’
– Stephen Jones

‘An elegiac, fascinating and insightful book.’
– Guardian

‘Nobody who enjoys both rugby and reading can fail to like this book.’
– Scotland on Sunday

‘One of the year’s funniest books.’
– The Independent

‘His is an enviable journey of camaraderie and sporting dreams that will resonate with all team players.’
– The Economist

‘Muddied Oafs, The Last Days of Rugger, will evoke a surging response from anyone over the age of 25 . . . this is rugger in the blood, that blind love that sometimes knows no reason save that it is there and there is nothing to do about it.’
– The Times

Richard Beard, writer, author, novelist, Sad Little Men, The Day That Went Missing, Acts of the Assassins, Becoming Drusilla, Manly Pursuits, UK