Blessed Union: Meet the Christian stars of the Rugby World Cup

It's the biggest sporting event on the planet right now, and it's jam-packed with Jesus-followers. The Rugby World Cup is well underway across England and Wales, and is being contested not only by teams containing Christian players, but at times by teams who are almost entirely Christian. Here's Christian Today's guide to some of the God-loving egg-chasers currently lighting up the World Cup.

1. Billy Vunipola (England)

Billy VunipolaReuters

The England and Saracens Number 8 told the Daily Express that he has returned to his Christian faith after allowing fame and fortune to go to his head. "The biggest thing for me has been my belief in God and I felt like I went away from that. I strayed," he said. "I took advantage of everything I have now and I didn't appreciate how lucky I am to be in a position that I am." And in an interview with Premier Christianity, Vunipola said his faith in Jesus both strengthens him and gives him a resilience when things don't go so well. "Knowing that Jesus is with me makes me a stronger person, makes me a more confident person. Whatever I do try to do, even if it doesn't come off, I'll always have God or Jesus to lean back on, and I know if it didn't go my way there must be a reason. There is always a reason."

2. Anthony Perensie (Samoa)


The giant-filled Samoan Rugby team must have caused quite a stir when they walked through the doors of St Mary's church in Brighton during their pre-World Cup training camp. Bristol prop Perensie explained that his team "have prayers every afternoon, every night before dinner, that's something that we do all the time, but Sundays is usually Sabbath day so we go to church. We went to St Mary's in Brighton last weekend, which is quite a small church so obviously having all of us in there made it quite a lot smaller." Perensie told the tournament's official website that the Christian faith shared by most of the players is part of what binds them together as a team, and talked about their post-match routine, where they always remember to thank God. "At the end of the day we're humble people. We always try to circle up with our opponents at the end of a match to pray. When we are in the circle we obviously thank the opposition but we also thank the big guy upstairs for the occasion."

3. Ruan Pienaar (South Africa)

Ruan PienaarReuters

The versatile South African scrum-half and fly-half plays his club rugby for Ulster, and was open about his faith in an interview with the Irish Times, where he explained that God was behind his move to Ireland. "I have always believed with my Christianity that there's so much more to life than rugby" he said. "I said to my wife before we came here that we had to be strong in our faith and I believe that God gave me a door to walk through here at Ulster... Being here gives me an enormous sense of purpose, I am not just here for rugby, I'm here to touch lives."

Akapusi QeraReuters

4. Akapusi Qera (Fiji)

Christian Today's Harry Farley met the faith-filled Fijian team in the run-up to the World Cup, and was struck by their sense of perspective. Speaking on behalf of a squad filled with Christians, Captain Qera said: "We don't have the access to the financial doorways like a lot of these big teams do, but we know that there is a God that we serve and he provides for us and is there for us." The entire squad stops to pray before and after matches, and as Qera explained, "[Faith] helps keep us together. It helps bond us as a team."





 5. Nili Latu (Tonga)

Nili LatuReuters

Just like the teams from Fiji and Samoa, the Tongans hail from a predominantly Christian island, and are fielding a squad full of believers. Captain Latu explained to a local newspaper in his homeland that faith is at the very centre of their World Cup campaign. "Everything revolves around our faith. Without it we have no direction going into the World Cup. It's something unique that we have as Tongans. If you look at how other teams are preparing with their sponsorship and stuff like that, we don't have that, but our faith holds us together." Latu also suggested that the team view the Bible as the most important element of their match preparation: "It's like a dictionary or manual, it tells us what to do in our whole lives, and we try to apply it to our work on the field as well."

That's not to mention the teams from Argentina and Italy, which are dominated by practicing Catholic players; both teams met the Pope in a special audience at the Vatican in 2013. And don't forget the Georgians, whose roots lie in a rugby-like game called Lelo which was popularised by Orthodox priests. The majority of the current team are also practicing members of the Church, and prepare for each match by saying the Lord's Prayer together.

Martin Saunders is a Contributing Editor for Christian Today and the Deputy CEO of Youthscape. You can follow him on Twitter: @martinsaunders