The East Terrace - For the rugby football enthusiast

JPR: Given the Breaks - My Life in Rugby

JPR: Given the Breaks - My Life in Rugby
Published by Hodder & Stoughton

By JPR Williams and Miles Harrison

East Terrace Book of the Month - October 2006

One of the most enjoyable aspects of reading an autobiography of a player from the amateur age is the extra life experience they can usually relate compared to modern players.

Having to hold down a day job whilst playing at the top leads to a slightly fuller life, meaning the anecdotes often stray far from the playing field and the tale told is all the richer for it.

Many pages in JPR’s book deal with his medical studies, his life as a doctor and his early flirtation with tennis (he won Junior Wimbledon in 1966). It gives the title that something extra.

JPR: Given the Breaks is actually Williams’ second autobiography. His first, published as his first-class career drew to a close, almost saw him expelled from rugby. The strict amateur codes of the day forbade a player from making a penny from the game and JPR was believed to have infringed this sacrosanct principle.

If found guilty of the charge he would have been banned from having any official capacity in the game - whether as a committeeman, coach or water carrier. Luckily he was able to prove the proceeds went to a charitable cause and allowed to carry on being involved with the sport (although he did fight a lengthy libel battle with the Daily Telegraph on the issue).

Like his first book, JPR likes to call a spade a spade and his on field confidence clearly shines through. As can be seen by his comments on Wales’ defeat to the All Blacks in 1980:

‘...although I was pleased with my own performance, I was extremely unhappy with the way the team had played. Had it not been for myself, Terry Holmes and the nineteen-year-old debutant Robert Ackerman, we would have lost by 50 points.’

One of the most endearing aspects of the book is the passion that JPR clearly has for the game and his country. His memories on being selected for the Welsh Under-15s are particularly poignant:

‘...I was thrilled to learn that I had been picked…I can still remember the unbelievable excitement when I heard my name called – I was to represent my country at Twickenham…It is still one of the happiest days of my life and remains my most cherished rugby memory, regardless of all that has happened since. No matter how much money the players are paid today, money can never buy the red shirt of Wales for the first time. That Under-15s shirt is still in the cabinet on my wall in centre spot.’

On the downside, the book does waste a chapter or two with JPR’s thoughts on some of the recent events in Welsh and British rugby. It would have been fair enough to have a closing chapter with JPR’s thoughts on the modern game, but instead we have a couple more than needed. With JPR having packed so much into his life it seems a shame to spend too much time dwelling on what exactly Clive Woodward stuffed up in 2005 with the Lions. The reader, unless criminally stupid, is aware Sir Clive messed up big time and would probably rather read a little bit more about JPR’s time at the top than Clive’s at the bottom.

There are also a few errors, which could have been fixed with a small bit of research. Such as JPR blaming professionalism for Welsh centre Mike Hall leaving his beloved Bridgend for Cardiff (Hall had actually gone to Cardiff in 1990, five years before the game went pro). On the plus side the book has a good statistical appendix and index for the stattos amongst us.

Overall, a great read; especially for those who never read his original book or those who only tend to read the autobiographies of modern players.