The 1963 British feature film “The Sporting Life”, based on a novel of the same name by author David Storey, featured a lot of real rugby players in roles…including lead actor Richard Harris in his first starring role as the lead character Frank Machin.
See, Richard Harris was a serious rugby player in real life, but of the union variety. He came from Limerick which sometimes is called “the rugby capital of Ireland” and played for Garryowen FC, as well as various junior sides. Harris remained a fan of the Munster team his entire life, and used to go and watch matches with actors Peter O’Toole and Richard Burton. However, unlike rugby league, up until the 1990’s, the union code was strictly amateur, so Harris would not have been paid as Machin is in the film. Harris’ toughness would end up being required for the accident that occurred on set.
The scene when Harris’ character is roughed up behind the scrum, real-life rugby league legend Derek Turner, who was playing the character who punches Harris in the scene, was asked by the director, Lindsay Anderon, to make the contact look real. Turner sure did deliver as he punched Harris for real and knocked him out completely, shooting for the day had to be stopped while Harris recovered.
Talk about taking punches huh?