'56 Springbok tour in context

OLD HEROES: The 1956 Springbok Tour and The Lives Beyond<br><b>Warwick Roger</b>Sample: ''For reasons I've always found difficult to explain, the Springbok rugby tour of 1956 has stayed in the dark at the back of my mind and haunted my memories.

''It's to do, I suppose, with things that were happening in my life at that time, and the tour became a sort of symbol in my boyhood, a mysterious anchor point at a time when a lot of things were beginning to wash around and over me.''

Published: 1991.
Sport: Rugby.

The setting: New Zealand, during the 1956 Springbok tour.

The protagonists: The All Blacks and the Springboks, from that tour and in the years following.

Why it is brilliant: Rugby books have, naturally, been a staple of the New Zealand market since the first haka. There have been the classic tour diaries (T.P. McLean did about 357 of these) and the authorised biographies (357 each year, it seems).

Roger, the former editor of North & South magazine, took a different approach when he delved into this story of possibly the greatest rugby tour of all. He wanted to explore the significance of the rugby, sure, but he also wanted to place the sport in a broader social context, examining the history of both countries and issues as diverse as racism, feminism and national identity.

He paints fresh pictures on every page, bringing the tour to life, partly through his own eyes - he was 11 at the time. Roger also revisits the players three decades after the tour, finding an incredible mix of inspiring, interesting, sad and unusual life stories.

Colin Meads All Black remains, for many, the greatest New Zealand rugby book. Ron Palenski has added a vast range of well-researched tomes to the sport's library. And poet Brian Turner both updated the Meads story and guided Anton Oliver through one of the more open biographies in recent years. But, for me, Old Heroes is still the best of the best in terms of rugby books.

Don't just take my word for it: ''Old Heroes is also about a particular moment in our cultural history when a national innocence prevailed and when for perhaps the last time we experienced a sense of unity and equanimity which now seems all but remote.''

- Graeme Bassett, Massey University.

The aftermath: Old Heroes was re-released in 2006, the 50th anniversary of the 1956 tour.