Rugby Documentaries – Review

Updated February 5, 2021

With rugby on hold for most of the world, we’re craving more interaction with the sport we love. So we’re going to watch as many rugby documentaries as we can and provide short reviews.

We’ll be watching sporadically so come back and see what we’ve watched. Also send us your favorite rugby docs and we’ll watch and add if we can!

Films are listed in the order that we watched.

We’re sharing even shorter reviews on Twitter, follow along with the thread below.

Rugby Documentary Reviews

Oceans Apart: Greed Betrayal and Pacific Rugby (2020)

This documentary hit us in the gut. It’s one of those films that shows you the underbelly and you don’t want to believe it at first. It’s well documented that co-producer Dan Leo has already lost his playing career for speaking out against corruption in the Samoa Rugby Union.

Now, he is taking on corruption and scandals in the Pacific Islands. This includes taking aim at World Rugby and the exploitation of Pacific Island players.

Dan was also part of the Samoan, Tongan and Fijian professional rugby players who created the Pacific Rugby Players Welfare (PRPW) non-profit. They ensure players and their families are equipped with the professional support network and social skills they need to overcome the challenges of professional rugby and overseas living.

We’ve chosen to support the PRPW in their efforts and we hope you will too.

Castaway in Romania: From the Tongan national rugby team to the foodbanks of Baia Mare (2020)

Oceans Apart also led us to Sione Vaiomo’unga, a Tongan international who signed a professional rugby contract in Baia Mare, Romania. During his first season he was suffering from kidney failure and required dialysis treatments. Without notice his contract was torn up, his family and he were left high and dry.

The Pacific Rugby Players Welfare (PRPW) and crowdfunding helped Vaiomo’unga and his family to renew their Romanian visas so they wouldn’t be deported back to Tonga where dialysis isn’t offered.

In 2019, Vaiomo’unga received a kidney transplant and he and his family hope to return to Tonga soon.

Caucau: Rugby’s Greatest Mystery (2019)

We’re deep in the Dan Leo rabbit hole now and it has led us to Fiji’s Rupeni Caucaunibuca. Caucaunibuca only had 8 caps for Fiji but his rise to stardom was stunningly fast and he struggled to deal with it.

While this film focuses on Caucaunibuca it poses larger questions around how Pacific Islanders are being plucked from a their remote villages and forcefully immersed into completely different cultures and expectations. According to Britain-based lobby group Pacific Rugby Players Welfare, over 20 percent of professional rugby players worldwide are of Pacific Island heritage and so his story isn’t unique.

Everybody’s Game (2020)

England stars Maro ItojeBeno ObanoAnthony Watson, Biyi Alo and Ellis Genge share their journey through the levels of the game.

The film also tackles the lack of ethnic minority players in the game and the hope from the players is clear that the demographic of rugby can and should be broadened significantly.

The Story of Rugby (2019)

Six episodes that walk you through the origins of rugby and where it’s going. While rugby history may not be everyone’s thing, it uniquely includes the games larger-than-life personalities, and extraordinary behind-the-scenes stories.

The last episode takes on 7s, the sleeping giant USA Rugby and the growth of the women’s game. By far our favorite segment (maybe we’re biased). The first few minutes referencing women’s rugby can seem disheartening but stick with it and become a believer if you aren’t already.

By the Balls (2019)

We’re realizing that there are lots of documentaries about the All Blacks out there…but this one is a bit different. It’s told from the perspective of the players and includes a historical look at the politics surrounding the game in the 80s.

Jonah (2019)

Not really a documentary but a biographical, we still felt like we had to watch this one because Jonah is a true rugby legend. The two-part mini film series chronicles the life, career and death of former New Zealand All Blacks winger, Jonah Lomu.

Before this we didn’t know much about Jonah other than his loving his clips of absolutely demolishing his opponents. His diagnosis of nephrotic syndrome  in 1995 had a significant impact on his playing career and wider life. He died unexpectedly on 18 November 2015 after suffering a heart attack associated with his kidney condition.

All Or Nothing: New Zealand All Blacks – Season 1 (2018)

The All or Nothing Prime Video documentary series have been stunning and we were pumped when we heard they would cover New Zealand men’s rugby. We weren’t disappointed!

The film covers a four month period starting after they’ve lost their third Bledisloe Cup match against Australia in 2017. This team isn’t used to losing and they must live up to their two-decade dynasty.

The All Blacks are famous for being shrouded in secrecy so this peek behind the black curtain shouldn’t be missed.

Pacific Warriors (2015)

This documentary takes a deep look at the Pacific Island nations of Tonga, Fiji and Samoa and their love of rugby. The film looks at their genealogy which attributes their powerful and unique style of play. 

Look Beyond (2019)

Look Beyond chronicles Ian McKinley’s return to International rugby after losing sight in one of his eyes. He lost his eyesight in his left eye in 2010 when a player’s stud punctured his eyeball. 

The story includes his brother Philip McKinley who found a student from Ireland’s National College Art and Design to help design special protective goggles so Ian could return to playing rugby. The fight didn’t end with his return to playing though as some teams refused to allow players with goggles on the pitch. The McKinley’s didn’t give up and won an extensive class-action victory to allow players worldwide to play with protective goggles.

Legacy: The Mark Bingham Story (2019)

With Alice Hoagland, Mark Bingham’s mother recently passing, we knew we had to rewatch this documentary. The film chronicles Mark’s life and how he ended up as one of the passengers on United 93’s flight on Sept. 11, 2001. He helped take down the plane before it was able to reach its target in Washington, D.C..

Mark’s heroism spurred the creation of the The Mark Kendall Bingham Memorial Tournament, or Bingham Cup as it is more widely known. It is the biennial world championships of gay and inclusive rugby.

Scrum (2015)

The Mark Bingham Story led us to Scrum which profiles three gay men and their journey with the Sydney Convicts team to the gay World Cup (Bingham Cup).

While some would call it a lower budget adaptation, the larger tale of diversity and inclusion shouldn’t be missed.

Red, White, Black and Blue Odyssey (2017)

We promo’d this documentary back in 2013 when it premiered at the Idyllwild CinemaFest. It was time to watch it again and we were pleased that it was available on Amazon at a reasonable price. 

The film chronicles the challenges that South Los Angeles students face in their families and private lives. At the center of the film is the Inner City Education Foundation (ICEF) rugby program that has provided physical education and rugby programs since 2008. We follow along as 38 ICEF high school boys and girls rugby players embark on a trip to New Zealand to play local high school teams.

Salam Rugby (2010)

Sadly the above link is only the trailer and we’ve searched for the actual film but can’t seem to find it anywhere online. We’ve also reached out to the film producer and will update if we hear back.

The film tells the story of how rugby started in Iran. Would be fascinating to watch!

The Rugby Boys of Memphis (2016)

A quick 13 minute documentary that focuses on an inner city high school in south Memphis, Tennessee and the rise of the Power Center Academy’s first rugby team.

Rugby on Everest (2019)

In 2019, twenty six rugby players climbed Mount Everest to set two Guinness World Records for the highest games of rugby ever played. This exclusive behind-the-scenes documentary takes us through the journey and the people who did it.

While being a cool challenge, it also raised over $350,000 for charity Wooden Spoon. 

Inside England Rugby – Sweet Chariot (2003)

We’ve always been huge fans of Jonny Wilkinson so we’re always happy to watch anything that includes him. In this case, this 90-minute documentary  focuses primarily on England’s 2003 Grand Slam-winning campaign, just before the World Cup in Australia.

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