5 Rugby Movies That Capture the Spirit of the Game

The Rugby World Cup is underway in France with several strong contenders making their presence known in the pool stages, vying for a spot in the quarter-finals. South Africa, New Zealand, Ireland and host nation France are the favourites at this year’s tournament with the Springboks defending their title from 2019.

Filled with drama from Fiji’s historic win over Australia to the cutting edge innovation of Rassie Erasmus within the Springbok camp with a 7:1 bench and traffic light signals to fielding four scrumhalves, it’s shaping up to be one of the most memorable Rugby World Cups. The rugby world cup has already led to two biographical and historical rugby dramas in Invictus and The Brighton Miracle. Based on major upsets and injury setbacks at this year’s tournament, there appears to be a wealth of classic narratives and spin-offs stories yet to be told. While sports documentaries like Chasing the Sun have set the bar high, it seems as though there hasn’t been a quintessential rugby movie… yet.

While we wait to see if Siya Kolisi and his team will be able to hold onto the Webb-Ellis trophy for back-to-back World Cups, it’s a good time to relive their 1995 World Cup win through Clint Eastwood’s Oscar-nominated film, Invictus and see which other spirited rugby movies are worth adding to your watch list. While sports dramas have a fairly predictable formula, rugby is one sport that is geared towards camaraderie, teamwork, intensity and athleticism in the pursuit of toppling the opposition, overcoming adversity and celebrating sportsmanship. Here are five rugby movies, including Invictus, that capture the spirit of the game.

Invictus (2009)

Invictus tells the moving and inspiring story of Nelson Mandela’s use of rugby to unite South Africa after the end of apartheid and the power of sport to bring people together. Directed by by Clint Eastwood and starring Morgan Freeman and Matt Damon, the legendary film-maker effectively captures the behind-the-scenes story between Francois Pienaar and Nelson Mandela in the build-up to a famous historic victory over New Zealand to clinch the 1995 World Cup Final.

Set against a country in a transitional phase, Invictus explores forgiveness, healing and reconciliation with Freeman playing a pivotal role many believe he was born to play opposite Damon in a surprisingly adept turn. While this inspirational historical drama is a reasonable adaptation, it’s probably the most well-known film about rugby that goes beyond the game to tell a story of leadership, hope and the power of the human spirit.

The Brighton Miracle (2019)

Brighton Miracle dramatises the story of Japan’s historic victory over South Africa at the 2015 Rugby World Cup. Directed by Max Mannix and starring Temuera Morrison as Eddie Jones and Lasarus Ratuere as Michael Leitch, this is a classic and inspirational underdog story about the power of teamwork and perseverance. The focus of Brighton Miracle is on the team’s coach Jones and his unlikely friendship with team captain, Leitch.

Beautifully shot and well-acted, this stirring rugby drama captures a famous, historic and record-breaking win that shocked the rugby world and set the platform the the Brave Blossoms to host the 2019 World Cup in Japan. Based on true events, Mannix’s film uses actual rugby footage to chronicle this story about big dreams and hard work.

Forever Strong (2008)

Forever Strong tells the story of Rick Penning, a young man who’s put up in a juvenile detention centre after being expelled from school after DUI charges. Directed by Ryan Little and starring Sean Faris, Neal McDonough and Gary Cole as Larry Gelwix, this transformative sports drama deals with redemption and second chances. Set against the backdrop of New Zealand’s rugby pride, it’s at this rugby rehabilitation camp that Ricky learns self-discipline and teamwork, rediscovering his true worth and more purpose.

An inspiring and stirring rugby drama based on a real coach and team, Rick struggles to find his place in the Highland Rugby team and ultimately plays against his father in the National Championships. Heartfelt performances underscore this spirited and triumphant drama. While Forever Strong sticks closely to the Hollywood formula of Remember the Titans and We Are Marshall, this uplifting sports movie powers home with an important and powerful message.

Blood and Glory (2016)

Modder en Bloed (or Blood and Glory) is an entertaining and gritty triumph-of-the-human-spirit historical drama in the vein of Lagaan. Based on a true story, this rugby drama focuses on a group of Boer prisoners of war who are forced to play a rugby match against a British team during the Second Boer War.

Directed by Sean Else and starring Stian Bam, Grant Swanby and Charlotte Salt, this spirited underdog story grapples with themes of patriotism, sportsmanship and the power of sport to unite people in the face of adversity. Filled with passion and perseverance, it’s entertaining and inspiring enough to keep you rooting for the underdogs through all their trials.

Mercenary (2016)

Mercenary is a French sports drama film about Soane, an ambitious young Wallisian man who leaves New Caledonia and his sadistic father behind when he’s recruited by a professional team in France. Culture clash, ambition and the pursuit of dreams are the pillars of this fierce drama as the determined rugby player tries to fit in and succeed. When his contract is cancelled, obstacles mount as Soane’s violent past catches up with him.

Mercenary features authentic performances from a largely non-professional cast with a sharp lead in Toki Pilioko. An entrancing score highlights the importance of music to the Wallisians, as a man faces adversity in the fast-paced and intense competition of professional rugby in France.