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Invictus By John Carlin

Release date: 06th February, 2010
Publisher: Atlantic Books

List Price: £8.99
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Invictus
By John Carlin
Atlantic Books

Sports book of the month price: £4.49, saving 50% on rrp

Clint Eastwood's movie Invictus is released on Friday and even before rugby fans have had the opportunity to flock to watch it (and they will), the film has already been favourably compared with some of the best sports-based movies ever produced. Actually, there are very few such films and whether Invictus will knock Raging Bull from justifiable top spot is highly unlikely, though your correspondent says this having only seen cinema trailers of the new release which celebrates South Africa's 1995 Rugby World Cup victory.

The movie will, of course, be a topic of conversation at this weekend's Six Nations matches, but perhaps few of those engaged in talking about it will be aware that it is based upon John Carlin's excellent book of the same name.

In 1995, Carlin was The Independent's South Africa correspondent, a man who appreciated just how divisive rugby was.

Prior to the Springboks' extraordinary 15-12 victory over New Zealand at Ellis Park, South Africa's black majority considered rugby a white man's sport.

Such symbolism was not lost on Nelson Mandela.

Not long after being elected as South African President in 1994, Mandela asked the national rugby team's captain, Francoise Pienaar, to visit him at his government's Union Buildings in Pretoria. At their meeting, Mandela requested that Pienaar and his team-mates should learn the new South African national anthem, Nkosi Sikeleli. The rugby man was delighted to concur and the pair kept in touch during the build up to the World Cup, meeting frequently.

As the final loomed, Mandela made a point of wearing his green Springbok cap to work every day. Immediately prior to kick-off and before he took his VIP seat in the grandstand, the President visited the South African team's dressing room to tell them they were going to win.

How must that feel? Imagine listening to a man who spent 27 years in jail and who, upon his release, became not just South Africa's President, but one of the most recognisable people on the planet. If he tells you you're going to win, he does so with absolute conviction and clearly, the Springboks were not going to let their man down.

Though the New Zealanders were odds-on favourites to spoil the South African party, their hosts showed greater spirit and more commitment when ultimately emerging victorious. Sceptics would argue that if you couldn't show such traits in a World Cup final, then you probably don't possess them. While this is certainly true, Mandela's role (and indeed, that of Pienaar) cannot be swept aside; their bond became almost spiritual and, when the President awarded the trophy to his exultant captain with the grace of an avuncular headmaster handing a prize to one of his outstanding pupils, so one of the world's most iconic scenes was created.

I'm hoping the movie is half as good as this feel-good book and would recommend reading it before going to see the film.



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