Share

5 stars at the Rugby World Cup you (probably) didn't know are Christians

Here's the lowdown on the faith of five of the world's top rugby players

1. David Pocock (Australia) 

The 31 year-old Zimbabwe born Australian player has always identified as a Christian. But when he left home at 17, he questioned whether his faith was real, or just inherited. The avid reader went back to the Bible, and began to study the works of theologians including NT Wright and John Howard Yoder. (He also credits Lee Camp's Mere Discipleship as the best book he's read on following Jesus). 

Writing on abc, he says: "I continue to realise much of what has passed for Christianity in my life and in larger culture (tragically, this includes the church) has sometimes more to do with being white, or middle class, or capitalist - all things that Christ Jesus was not. It's confronting to realise that it's possible to call yourself a Christian and serve the interests of an idolatrous empire, rather than serving those Jesus came to save.

"That's why we all need grace. Grace is both pardon (we are forgiven from cooperating in what Dorothy Day would call "the filthy rotten system") and empowerment ("to live God's love by letting God love through us" as my mate who did the homily at my wedding often says)."

"Once I began to read the story of Jesus with a growing understanding of the Gospels' original context - it came alive! I could hear and feel God's grace daring me to lose my life and really find it in following Jesus. Jesus came to usher in his new Kingdom "on earth as in heaven" - not to offer us a fire insurance policy for life after death - but to live life now; for Christ and like-Christ. This is life in its fullness (John 10:10). The early Christians were called people of the Way, because they followed Christ's way of reflecting God's love, mercy, grace and restorative justice."

2. Billy Vunipola (England)

PA

The England star has previously told Premier Christianity "knowing that Jesus is with me makes me a stronger person, makes me a more confident person...my faith helps me with because there is more to life than winning and losing rugby games."

Vunipola was born in Australia to Tongan parents, but moved to Wales with his family as a young child. Rugby runs in his blood as his father captained Tonga in the 1999 World Cup. When England faced Tonga on Saturday, Vunipola was always going to be a target. Their coach had vowed the team would “get into Billy’s face and smash him”. Sure enough, Zane Kapeli caught him flush in the chest. England won 35-3, but speaking afterwards, Vunipola admitted the match had been "tough". 

He's also faced other challenges recently. The 26 year-old was booed during a Saracens game earlier this year, after expressing support for Israel Folau - another Christian rugby player, who had caused controversy for comments on homosexuality

3. Jacob Stockdale (Ireland)

The 23 year-old Northern Irish winger prays before, during and after every game. His father is a Presbyterian minister, so faith was a part of his life from an early age. He first made a commitment to Christ during a summer camp when he was just 14. 

Speaking about his childhood, Stockdale said there was a "certain expectation" placed on the children of ministers, but on the positive side, he "always had...a community to be part of".

In a candid interview with Presbyterian Herald magazine Stockdale admitted, "There is a very small percentage of people who have any sort of Christian faith within the rugby world and that can be a tough challenge. It's a challenge that I don't always get right; sometimes I can get into fights on the pitch and do things that probably don't point towards me being a Christian, so the challenge is trying to get it right more times than I get it wrong."

4. Siya Kolisi (South Africa)

The South African captain Siyamthanda “Siya” Kolisi grew up in the impoverished township of Zwide, South Africa, near Port Elizabeth. His friends and family say Kolisi was always destined to be a rugby star, showing promise from an early age.

In a recent interview with Sport Go Mag, Kolisi explained that although he grew up in a Christian environment, he'd only recently given his life to Christ. 

The beginning of his conversion can be traced back to March, when controversy was sparked after his wife found a risque photo of another woman in his Instagram direct messages. Over the next few months, the messy saga played out in public view. 

Kolisi remembers, “While struggling with a lot of things personally — temptations, sins and lifestyle choices — I realised I wasn’t living according to what I was calling myself: a follower of Christ. I was getting by, but I hadn’t decided to fully commit myself to Jesus Christ and start living according to his way."

“Walking alongside a spiritual mentor,” Kolisi continued, “I’ve been able to discover the truth and saving power of Christ in a whole new way. This new life has given me a peace in my heart I’d never experienced before.”

5. Leone Nakarawa (Fiji) 

The Fijian rugby player and Olympic gold medalist is also a past winner of the European Professional Rugby Player of the Year accolade, and the 31 year old is generally considered to be one of the best lock forwards in the world.

Speaking during the last world cup, he said "We Fijians don't have large facilities like other teams have. But we know that being here is not from our strength but from God and its all God's plan that we are here...Even if we lose we know that there is something bigger." 

And it isn't just Nakarawa who espouses a Christian faith. According to the last census, the majority of Fiji's population (64%) are Christians, and Fiji's rugby team meetings reportedly double up as prayer meetings. 

Enjoyed that? Get more articles covering news, culture, faith and apologetics in every print issue of Premier Christianity magazine. Subscribe now

About this blog

Opinions on the latest trends, topics, news and culture from a Christian perspective.

Weekly Newsletter
You may also like...

The mum of Wales' new rugby hero has explained how she didn't... More

UK

Billy Vunipola was booed as Saracens suffered a 23-21 defeat... More

UK

Rugby player Billy Vunipola has been formally warned about his... More

UK