The East Terrace - For the rugby football enthusiast

Ring Master: The Incredible Story of Welsh Rugby's Clown Prince (Hardcover)

Published by Mainstream Publishing

By Mark Ring and Delme Parfitt

We feel a bit guilty about liking this book so much. At times it’s a bit of a tabloid/shock horror kind of autobiography. Which we don’t normally approve of in these parts.

Indeed, it was heavily promoted in the press on the back of a story about some London gangster offering Mark Ring a good deal of money to throw a Five Nations game between Wales and Ireland.

But, well, despite the tabloidy approach, it’s fun. Very fun at times.

Anyone who watched Mark Ring when he was on form should consider themselves lucky. His international career spanned from the 1983 Five Nations to the 1991 Welsh world cup disaster and his club loyalties switched back and forth between Cardiff and Pontypool.

He may not have been the most consistent player, and his later years were hampered by some horrific knee injuries, but he was easily one of the most exciting and talented players to have graced British playing fields in the past quarter of a century.

Ring was a player of the amateur era, meaning there is far more material of interest to fill a book than in many of the current efforts from professional players that sit on our bookshelves.

His stories about David Bishop, the former Wales and Pontypool scrum-half, are simultaneously entertaining and frightening. Likewise, some of Ring’s gambling escapades are both hilarious and pitiful at the same time.

Ring was always an outspoken player and his book is true to form in this regard. It’s likely that Ring has lost a few drinking buddies over some of his comments in the book. It makes for interesting reading, but he might come to regret the odd comment in the future.

That said, he does have a way with a put down. He criticizes former captain and fellow centre Mike Hall by claiming his tendency to seek contact made him Wales’ first ‘agoraphobic three-quarter’.

Ring’s top flight career ended in the early 1990s. The book serves as a timely reminder of how much the game has changed in that short period. Ring relates stories of travelling to an away game with Pontypool, one of the most dominant teams in the UK in the 1980s, with just fourteen players. They had to pick up a fifteenth man on the way to make up the numbers.

One area the book disappoints in, however, is the skimming over of the politics in Ring’s decision to be part of the 1989 centenary celebrations in apartheid torn South Africa. He was paid £35,000 for taking part in the rebel tour, despite the fact it was to be a further six years before rugby union went open.

The fall out of the tour (Ring was not the only UK player to make the trip) was the end of the administrative careers of a few prominent Welsh Rugby Union folk and Ring admits some of his black friends sent him to ‘Coventry’ over the matter when he returned.

We don’t get too much depth on the rights and wrongs of the affair, although we do find out that Ring squandered £23,000 of the money he received on living the good life.

Otherwise, the book is an enjoyable collection of anecdotes from what already seems a distant age. Like many autobiographies nowadays, it inexcusably lacks both an index and a statistical appendix. But that is a minor complaint.

In summary, we like it. A lot. But we feel a little guilty for doing so.