NAGATO, 21 Sep - Kingsley Jones won 10 Wales caps in the 1990s and has played, and coached, in club and international rugby across three decades. In all that time he has never seen - or heard - anything quite like the Canada team he is coaching at Rugby World Cup 2019.
Jones knew he had walked into something different when soon after he had started his new job he entered a silent changing room. He thought he had taken a wrong turn, but then he was confronted by a group of players with their noses in books.
"I went into the changing room and it was silent," he said. "I thought when I was walking in there that it was empty and I’d gone in the wrong changing room. And there were about 12 guys out of the group reading books. It struck me. I’ve never seen that before.
"They’re different to a lot of rugby players I coached."
Team Canada's passion for reading remains strong since Jones walked into that changing room two years ago.
The players started up a book club during their last training camp ahead of the Rugby World Cup 2019 with more than half reading The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead, a novel about slaves in southern United States.
"Every bus ride, every break, it would be hard not to find at least one guy with his nose in a book," said Canada’s centre Ben LeSage. "The guys enjoy reading during their off and relaxing time so it’s a like-minded group of individuals where a lot of us are in the same boat. It’s not this one weird guy who reads a book. There’s a lot of us who enjoy the same things and that’s probably why we click so well as a group."
"I played on a lot of teams and there’s not a whole lot of readers," his team-mate Jeff Hassler agreed. "I’ve always been a reader. In club teams that I’ve been on in the UK, you’ll have one or two, but this group’s got quite a lot.”
Reading is not the only activity with which Canadian players have occupied themselves during their pre-tournament preparations in Nagato. Jumping at any opportunity to explore local culture, the Canadians have also harvested rice, made soba noodles, gone net fishing and tried meditation at the Taineiji Temple, pictured below.
Since August their book club has transformed into a book swap, in large part due to the challenges of procuring copies of the same book for a dozen players at one time.
"It was just tough to get 16 of the same book," Hassler said. "It’s tough to find one book that everyone, A, wants to read, and then, B, that a store has enough of."
Non-fiction is the most favoured genre on the Canadian squad. Educated: A Memoir, Tara Westover's autobiographical account of a self-taught young woman from a survivalist family, was a particular hit. Seven players pounced on the shared copies.
"It was such a good book that it was passed around like hot cakes," LeSage said.
Books about daring adventures are also a hot commodity. Hassler is reading Touching the Void by Joe Simpson between training sessions in preparation for Canada’s first match against Italy on 26 September. It recounts the author’s terrifying climb in the Peruvian Andes.
Meanwhile, like-minded team-mates DTH van der Merwe and Hubert Buydens are finishing off Into Thin Air by Jon Krakauer, about the death of eight Mount Everest climbers in 1996. LeSage is already plotting how to swipe a copy.
Patrick Parfrey, pictured above, clearly likes the fantasy and science fiction work of Brandon Sanderson.
One topic that does stay off the team’s most-read list, curiously, is the one that brought the 31 men together in the first place - rugby.
"There’s always a different book, here or there," said flanker Lucas Rumball, who recently finished international bestseller Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind by Yuval Noah Harari and is now reading a memoir by South African comedian Trevor Noah. "The boys like to keep themselves busy off the field, keep growing away from rugby, and reading is an easy way to do that."
The players are clearly making good choices. Of the three books they named that were published in the past few years, two - The Underground Railroad and Sapiens - were in the top 30 of the "100 best books of the 21st century" published by the Observer newspaper in Britain on Sunday.
Their head coach, for one, approves of the brainy hobby.
"It’s a really good thing. These guys’ bodies are getting taxed and they get a lot of downtime. It could lead to all sorts of wastes of time," Jones said. "Reading is a fantastic way to learn and rest at the same time."