Open Side – Sam Warburton Rating: 4.8/5
Apologies in advance. I’m not a book critique, but do love a sporting/musical autobiography, so this is going to be written as if we’re having a chat.
Firstly…The author. The guy needs no introduction. If you’re between the ages of 10 and 90 and happen to be Welsh, you’ll know who the man is. If you were to search the word role model in the Collins dictionary, it’s probably got a picture of Sam next to the descriptor.
The way in which he conducts himself both on and off the field and even more recently through his punditry, you turn to your kids and say, “be like Sam”. Rather than dwell on negatives (and even given his status, there’s been plenty of those), his outlook remains optimistic. You can’t help but like the guy. The fact that I’m a bit of a rugby nut, love the British Lions, and have worked in rugby development for a number of years, this book took me a day to finish. Loved it. Once you pick it up, you can’t put it down.
As with most sporting autobiographies, it starts with his upbringing, an insight into the family dynamic, how he and his brother would push each other, his schooling, and as the book progresses you can visualise how these elements have sort of molded the guy you see on the TV. It follows’ Sam’s career on the pitch, from playing with his Brother at Whitchurch High School to captaining the Wales U20s in the 2008 Junior World Cup, through the Lion's Cliff-hanger in 2017. It’s a hell of a rollercoaster ride in between. Unlike some of the old ‘amateur rugby days’, it’s not filled with stories of lock-ins and alcohol-fuelled activities; instead, it gives an insight into both the positives and negatives this brutal sport presents today. From the highs of captaining his country to two grand slams, to the agonising red card in the RWC semi-final of 2011 and the 1 point defeat (which had we won, of course, we would’ve beaten the All Blacks in their own back yard), back to the cliff-hanger of the Lions in New Zealand, the book gives great insight into the demands of modern-day rugby union. As successful as Sam was as a player, in what was arguably Welsh Rugby’s most successful period ever, the levels of injuries and punishment he put his body through are phenomenal. In the second Lions Test of 2013 in Melbourne, with his leg trapped in a ruck as James Slipper made a clear-out, he suffered an 8cm tear in his hamstring yet still got to his feet to stand in the defensive line until the next stoppage in play 55 seconds later. Absolute Beast!!
The honesty within the book is also exceptional, surrounding both rugby and non-rugby related incidents. His refusal to sit in on selection meetings, because he wanted to be treated like anyone else, helped drive him to higher standards and he effectively ‘deselected’ himself ahead of the 2017 Lions first Test by speaking frankly to Gatland about his form at that stage.
The book contains examples of human frailty which is endearing and completely at odds with the physicality and courage he brought to Wales and the Lions on the pitch.
He may not be one of the most flamboyant rugby characters Wales has produced, but he’s certainly one of the most industrious and honest, and those characteristics undoubtedly set him in good stead for his role as National Captain. The fact he took the job on at such a young age, with the group of players around him speaks volumes.
You don’t have to be a rugby nut to like this book. There are life lessons in here that will help everyone. If you’ve got young, sports-mad kids about the house read this to them as their bedtime story. The lessons learned from it will increase their chances of sporting success by 327%*.
The worst element of the book…probably realising he’s a spurs fan, and you still can’t help but like him.
Top Bloke, Top Book. Give it a read.
*the 327% increase in sporting success might not be accurate, but it’ll set them on the right path