It’s well known that family plays a key role in a child’s initial socialisation into sport and his or her continued participation. This family involvement is certainly evident on a Sunday morning at my local rugby club where siblings of both genders and all ages participate in a range of activities. Add to this the fact that as many of the mums and dads are former players who now help with coaching and refereeing, with a few grandparents thrown in as well, there can often be three generations of the same family involved.
The level of family involvement in the 2015 Rugby World Cup appears to confirm research that family influences a players’ introduction and experience of the sport in a variety of ways – from taking up the game to sibling rivalry driving performance. Being an England fan I was already aware of the two sets of brothers in the England squad – Billy and Mako Vunipola and the brothers Ben and Tom Youngs (whose father Nick was a former England scrum-half).
The Ireland squad features brothers Dave and Rob Kearney. Rob has said that his passion for rugby was strongly influenced by his father’s love of the sport though he also acknowledged the important role of mothers in today’s game – if his mum didn’t want him playing the game he wouldn’t be doing it.
What all these sets of brothers have in common is their closeness and the bond between them, as well as a healthy element of sibling rivalry. Dave Kearney explains this relationship: “If there’s someone with you it’s easier. It’s competitive too. You’re working hard against each other and trying to get the best out of each other. It was good having someone you can work with and push on.”
New Zealand has a long history of brotherly participation with 43 sets of brothers having played for the All Blacks at different times. However for those brothers lining up alongside each other this figure drops to nine. This year Ben and Owen Franks make up the fraternal component of the 2015 squad. Once again it was their father who was instrumental in their rugby career, training the duo from a young age. Like the Kearney brothers, sibling competition also plays a key part and Owen revealed that: “Ben would try to bait me into fighting him because I was so much weaker and smaller but as I got older I could start to compete a little bit more."
Canada also join the brotherly club with the inclusion of Phil and Jamie MacKenzie as do the Springboks featuring Jannie Du Plessis and Bismarck Du Plessis. The Du Plessis brothers have spoken openly about their strong relationship and bond and even made their Springboks debut together in the same game. Their closeness is magnified by their working, living and playing together and their unified goal of playing in a World Cup final watched by their father.
Potential record breakers
At the top of the list is Samoa, which is fielding three brothers: George, Tusi and Ken Pisi, in the same squad. If all three appear on the pitch at the same time they will create Rugby World Cup history. George explained his feelings of brotherly love: “When Ken was small, Tusi and I used him for tackling practice … Later, whenever we were on opposite sides in a game, I had this extra-special feeling of just wanting to smash him.”
Samoa are no strangers to family ties and the Tuilagi brothers Henry, Freddie, Anitelea and Sanele have all played internationally for Samoa and brother Manu played for England. Brother Alesana Tuilagi, a winger in the Samoan 2015 squad would therefore also contribute to the history books if he makes his Rugby World Cup debut.
The family connections continue still beyond brothers, with other family links in the competition including Ireland’s Luke Fitzgerald whose father Des played for Ireland, Welsh back Ross Moriarty who is following in the footsteps of his father and uncle who both played internationally for Wales, and the England player Owen Farrell whose father Andy, a former England player, is also part of the England coaching staff. Rugby, it seems, truly is a family affair.