on 27 November 2010
Strangely for one who had such a way with the spoken word Bill McLaren's style of writing was, on the evidence of this book, turgid.
McLaren writes about his favourite players and national teams in separate chapters covering the decades of the fifties, sixties, seventies, eighties and nineties. There are some interesting insights, though the coverage seems to be limited to games played in Europe (except for those in the southern hemisphere that involved the Lions). However the prose style is ponderous ("That move suggests to me that rugby union really is the greatest of ball games, because Gareth there has just about everything.") and there is a great deal of repetition (we are told three times that the New Zealand full back Don Clarke could kick goals from the half-way line with his bare feet). McLaren's obsession with height and weight (player after player is described, in awe-struck tones, as "six foot two and sixteen stone five") and number of caps won, as well as his irritating habit of introducing the players with their full names ("William Blackledge Beaumont" / "Frederik Christophel Hendrick Du Preez"), leads him into loading the player portraits with pointless information that would better have been buried in an appendix. This book could have done with some rigorous editing.
In the final chapter McLaren selects his World XV (with only six players from the southern hemisphere and none from France!), giving adulatory portraits of the players and of his second, third, fourth and fifth choices for each position in the team, as well as of other contenders. Many of these have already made their appearance in the earlier chapters, and the result is more irritating repetition.
There are a number of factual errors in the book which is surprising as the author was a stickler for accuracy when giving his TV commentaries. For example Irish players such as Tony O'Reilly and Fergus Slattery would be surprised to read that they turned out for a side called the British Lions (sic).
After 300 pages the McLaren thesaurus of superlatives had been exhausted, and I had lost all interest. Maybe McLaren had too.