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April 25 , 2008

Balls, Bullets and Boots


‘Rugby may borrow the language of warfare, but in war injury time may last a whole lifetime and not all of the team go home after a shower and a beer.’~ Stephen Cooper: The Final Whistle, 2012.

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In this fascinating WWI centenary e-publication, rugby historian Clive Akers explores the impact that hostilities had on New Zealand’s pre-war signature sport and its sportspeople.Stories of how the lives, loves and communities of XV rugby players and a pioneering female coach were forever changed by war are vividly retold, illustrating the breadth of wartime experiences common to all New Zealanders.

Researched with meticulous care and compassion, Akers introduces us to a feisty Irish-Catholicheadmistress who coached her Taranaki schoolboy team; three pre-war All Blacks and three post-war All Blacks; a heroic schoolboy rugby player-cum-soldier and a rugby-mad military defaulter; a clutch of keen rugby players who served in the Royal Navy, Royal Air Force and NZ Tunnelling Company;three NZ Māori players and a highly decorated VC winner who had a stellar pre-war provincial rugby career – their love of rugby the thread binding them all together.

Drawn from across New Zealand, these real-life characters range from university-educated professionals to labourers, from landed gentry to those who had difficult upbringings. Some fought and survived several years of service while others died within days of entering the battlefield. Some returned home only to have their war wounds, or illness, drastically shorten their lives. 

Offering a unique perspective on the ‘long shadow’ that WWI still casts across our nation, Balls, Bullets & Boots also features stories on the lives of the 13 pre-war All Blacks who died fighting for their country and a host of never-before-seen statistics on rugby players and their war connections. With over 100,000 New Zealand men serving overseas during the war, Akers estimates an astonishing 20,000 to 30,000 of them were either active or retired rugby players or officials at the time of enlistment.

A must-read for sports history buffs, lovers of the oval ball code and military enthusiasts alike, Balls, Bullets & Boots tells how rugby was a welcome distraction from the ravages of war. Played in the military camps of Egypt, England and France where soldiers trained and rested, success on foreign rugby fields boosted morale. Rugby was a potent symbol of the home that soldiers hoped to return to when their time on the battlefield was done.

One of New Zealand’s foremost sports historians, author Clive Akers’ life-long passion for rugby has seen him involved with the New Zealand Rugby Museum since 1975 (six years after it was launched). Akers has shaped up its public offerings in a host of capacities (from curator, to manager, to trust chair) and in 2012 he was honoured with life membership of the museum society.

Since 1994 he has co-edited a New Zealand sporting institution, the Rugby Almanack, thought to be the oldest (and finest) publication of its type in the world.He has penned histories on the Manawatū Rugby Union (1986 and 2011) along with the Horowhenua Rugby Union, In Jacob’s Shadow, in 1993. With Don Knox he published Gumboots and Mouthguards in 2003, a 127-year history of rugby in the Manawatū rural district Te Kawau. In 2008 he published Monro, a biography on the founding father of rugby in New Zealand Charles Monro.

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