Much like his career, Pierre Spies’ book More than Rugby has some super strengths and notable weaknesses. For those who want a comprehensive look at Pierre’s on field career this is not the book for you. Yet, rugby and non-rugby fans alike will all be able to take something out of this book. As a fellow Christian, there were many parts of the book that I, personally, found to be inspiring, uplifting and challenging.
Holistically speaking, there are three sections to More than Rugby: Family, tragedy and triumph.
Pierre Spies was born in 1985 to Pierre Snr and Diedre Spies. He is the youngest brother to Steffani and Johanni. Chapters 1-4 focus on Pierre’s upbringing. His father was an exceptional athlete and his mother devoted most of her life to raising her children. Both parents were in the ministry. From a young age Pierre learns a lot about the nature of God and how he works among people. Although love was never a problem in the Spies household, hard times soon came when Pierre Snr and Diedre divorced. This situation threw young Pierre into the father figure role for his sisters and confidante to his mother.
Life for the family became more complicated when Johanni, Pierre’s eldest sister fell pregnant. She was 23, unmarried and still studying law. The difficult decision of whether to have the child or not both challenged her and deeply impacted the family. Aside from the divorce, the two biggest tragedies for Pierre were serious injuries; the first came in the U19 Rugby World Cup when he broke his radius and ulna together. For nine months Spies would be out of rugby. And this is where his rebellious party going streak began. Not long afterwards his father tragically passed away, leaving a huge void in his life. As the party life drew Pierre away from his family he did not see a huge amount of his dad before he fell ill. His premature death left Pierre Jnr to reflect on his life and where it was taking him.
The most memorable and well documented tragedy in Pierre’s life were the tragic blood clots in his lungs which prevented him from being a part of the Springboks squad in 2007. One day after training, the Springbok started coughing up blood. From there it only got worse as he was diagnosed with a disease that could kill him. After winning a Super Rugby title and being picked as a first choice Number 8 for the World Cup, it was devastating news.
After being given blood thinning medication, Pierre began to draw closer to God, constantly affirming that if it were in his will that he never play rugby, then it would be reason enough for him. Miraculously the life threatening disease was cured and the march towards rugby began once again. Not only did Pierre make it back into the Bulls squad in 2008, but he also earned Springbok colours too. Two Super 14 titles, one British and Irish Lions triumph and Tri Nations glory are a reflection of just how far Pierre Spies has come since returning to rugby. His newfound maturity also saw him get married to his long-time girlfriend Juanne in December 2008.
Sometimes, when rugby players are writing books, it can become far too easy to get lost in rugby without really offering much light on other areas of their story. Richie McCaw’s rather forgetful memoir The Open Side is one example. While there certainly are good chunks of the book which he does devote to rugby, Pierre, however, spends more time writing about his life off the rugby field. It was a refreshing look at rugby players and highlights how their lives are just as fraught with challenges as anyone else’s.
It is, by no means, my favourite sports players’ book, but it certainly is a good read. Yes, there are a lot of references to God and Jesus. A secular reader might not gain much out of these sections. All readers will certainly be challenged to think hard about their worldviews, though, when matched against Pierre’s; he is pro-life, pro-family and a genuine all around nice guy.
So where does the book come undone? Something I was not overly keen on is interweaving contributions from other people into someone’s own book. At only 200 pages, the book was already a very quick read. I wouldn’t have minded if it was just his family contributing, but too many people invade Pierre’s story (a story I quite enjoyed reading) to give their opinion of the man. Also, the book gives only a brief summation of Pierre’s on field rugby moments, instead of a more chiselled account. Pierre Spies fans may be disappointed to know only a few matches are touched on. While More than Rugby does get a thumbs up, it is still a fair way from being brilliant.