By Mark Simpson
(The London Times, 10 October 2007 )
Ah, rugby. A man’s game. Played by real men. Big hairy men. With big chins. Nothing metrosexual about rugger buggers. At all. Such a welcome respite from all that David Beckham, Frank Lampard love-me, love-my-shaved-pectorals stuff!
Wrong. So wrong.
For starters, rugby players have also become clothes-horses and walking endorsements for male vanity products. Fake-tanned, highlighted Jonny Wilkinson models designer clobber. Josh Lewsey is the face, or rather, hot, ripped, torso, of Nike Pro kinky lycra vests. New Zealand’s Dan Carter models Jockey underwear.
Ronan O’Gara is the decorative face of an Irish jewellery company. While glam French fly-half Frederic Michalak who seems to be his own mobile jewellery shop-window, has sashayed for Christian Lacroix, endorses a French condom brand, is the wrinkle-free face of Biotherme Homme cosmetics (a branch of L’Oreal), and is the eye-catching package for a skimpy underwear line.
And then there’s Welsh rugby star Gavin Henson, the prettier half of the Henson-Church celebrity couple, who likes to shave his legs and cover himself in fake tan and moisturiser before a match ‘because I like to look good for my team-mates’. David Beckham complained recently that Gavin Henson had stolen his gay fans.
To give you an idea how much has changed, take a look the life story of the England Rugby strip. Not so long ago a rugby shirt was a baggy, shapeless beer towel that flapped around a hairy beer monster in a sweatband. But in the last few years it has morphed into a tight, tarty, stretchy muscle-top that seems to have been designed by Jean-Paul Gaultier.
It wouldn’t look out of place dancing under a spotlight on a podium at a gay nightclub. The 2007 World Cup strip features a saucy red arrow that runs from the right shoulder down to the left hip, which is supposed to confuse the opposing team. Perhaps that’s because it seems to shout: ‘If you want to score, flip me over!’
I’m sure there are all sorts of reassuringly practical reasons that can be cited as to why the England strip has changed so much of late, but clearly aesthetics is also calling the shots in rugby these days, which, like football, is now increasingly a form of show-biz. English rugby has gone ‘pro’ -- and English rugby players now have ‘pro’ pumped, cut, muscular bodies they’ve worked hard on and that need to be shown off to their best advantage.
And oh, boy, do they show off. In the last few years rugby has become nakedly spornographic. Take a look, if you dare, at the Dieux du Stade French rugby Calendar, and accompanying, shrink-wrapped ‘Making Of’ DVD, featuring oiled, naked, shaved, designer tattooed rugger buggers naked in the locker room in poses that are frequently deliberately, provocatively homoerotic in a way that football wouldn’t countenance (unless it was after a match with a groupie present and filmed with a mobile phone).
Whilst showcasing the, er, talents of their own players, Stade Francais, the Paris team behind the Dieux Du Stade calendar, also invite especially blessed foreign players into their changing room. The eye-popping star of the 2007 calendar is humpy Scottish rugby player Sean Lamont, photographed on his back and on his front -- showing the world his versatile endowments.
Dieux du Stade even has it’s own male cosmetics line’ Retour Au Vestiare’ -- ‘Back to the lockeroom.’ (Just make sure you knock before you enter.)
Phenomenally popular, the Dieux Du Stade sporno calendars have dramatically increased the popularity and coolness of rugby in France with women (who seem to like the homoerotic teasing), but also with men -- gay and straight. Rugby sporno has helped make rugby seem that most modern, most covetted of things -- shaggable.
Little wonder then that France is also the country that is tipped to win the Rugby World Cup. (Six of the French squad play for Stade Francais.)
After all, last year’s football World Cup was won by not so much by Italy’s superior football skills but their superior sporno. In the run-up to the tournament, Dolce & Gabbana recruited several of their national team’s players to be photographed oiled up and hanging around in the showers in their D&G underwear apparently waiting to gang-bang us -- in a clear, if slightly toned-down, echo of Dieux du Stade (the same stunningly provocative photographer, Mariano Vivanco, worked on the 2007 Dieux Du Stade).
The current ‘Ce’st So Paris’ advertising campaign promoting travel to Paris ‘Capital of Love’ which features rugger buggers scrumming and snogging (‘Make love not war’) is clearly meant to be funny, which it is. But given the rise of sporno in the world of rugby it isn’t so absurd.
The only unbelievable thing about the ad is the fact that none of the fake snogging rugger buggers are nearly as buffed or beautiful as some of the real-life ones