I wrote this piece on 3rd of February this year. The announcement of the All Blacks sponsorship deal with leading underwear brand Jockey got me thinking, would Ireland ever head in that direction?
Yes, I know it sounds a bit out there but I do have a serious point to make!
When looking for an unconventional but trusted method of measuring how popular rugby is with the general population head to the hairdressers. It does sound a bit left of field but bare with me.
I first found this gauge by accident during the 2011 Rugby World Cup in New Zealand. It was my first rugby tour, as media and I felt rather outnumbered by male colleagues. So, what better place to get away from all that talk of rucks and mauls, than the hair salon?
Well, not in the Land of the Long White Cloud. Such is the rugby obsession; the stylists were just as willing to talk rugby as any sports hack. And there was no escape, even with the reading matter. Titles from gossip to cookery all had All Blacks adorning the covers.
Australia is completely different with rugby jostling for position along with rugby league, Aussie Rules, cricket and soccer. Even on the days of the Wallabies’ tests against the British and Irish Lions, the hairdressers, I came across, were oblivious to all affairs rugby related.
In Ireland, more often than not rugby is pretty low down as a conversation topic in salons. But not yesterday, Ireland’s first day of Six Nations action. In Peter Mark on Grafton Street, they were expecting a busy blow-dry trade due to the match. There were jokes that this desire for beautification was down to the presence of men in kilts. I shared a great chat with a Zimbabwe born stylist, who had trained as a hairdresser in Johannesburg and back when she was a junior, had washed Rugby World Cup winning captain Francois Pienaar’s hair. That is pretty good rugby hairdressing pedigree to kick off this year’s Six Nations!
So, with a bouncy blow dry, I felt ready to tackle the game. Ireland versus Scotland was by no means a classic but there was certainly enough on show to grow the wider love for the game.
Being blunt, sex appeal sells. Well, underwear brand Jockey certainly thinks so. Today, it was announced that the company is the latest name to sign on as a sponsor of the All Blacks and All Blacks Sevens. “Official Off-field Underwear sponsor” to give Jockey their title as outlined in the New Zealand Rugby Union press release. Accompanying this was a photo of nine players including star All Blacks Ben Smith, Sam Whitelock and Liam Messam wearing nothing more than their Jockey shorts!
Such an image would probably appeal to the readers of popular Irish wedding website Mrs2Be, who last week announced their Top 25 Irish Rides. Of their top three, two were rugby players. Tommy Bowe, who topped the poll and third placed Rob Kearney. At this stage in their careers both are veterans of various “Ireland’s sexiest” lists as well as being veterans of the Irish rugby squad.
The legions of ladies, who voted for Bowe would be no doubt disappointed with his current absence from the Ireland set up due to injury. However, it was an afternoon to remember for Kearney who led out the Irish upon the occasion of winning his 50th cap under a shower of green fireworks. He helped to create Andrew Trimble’s opening try and then scored a try of his own on the 71st minute.
A return to form, relishing the attacking freedom given to him under Joe Schmidt continues to cement the fullback’s reputation amongst the Irish rugby public. Kearney is also the man of the moment when it comes to Irish rugby players transcending the sport. Having younger brother Dave impress along side him in the back three for Ireland has helped to increase the profile of the duo amongst those not interested in rugby. Their appearance on The Late Late Show has probably helped them overtake The Corrs as County Louth’s most celebrated siblings!
The matter of being easy on the eye also helps the brothers to attract some extra fans to the rugby party. Who cares, the reason, the more excited Irish rugby punters, the merrier.
Speaking of merry, a major reason why Irish rugby is currently enjoying a bounce of spring optimism, even more so than the annual hope that comes with the beginning of the Six Nations, is the head coach Schmidt.
The former Leinster coach possesses that uniquely Kiwi combination of affability, humility and unrelenting determination and tenacity. It was no doubt some of that doggedness that helped Ireland to that wonderful performance against his home nation that reignited that flame between the Irish public and our national rugby team.
So, with Scotland put to the sword, we can continue to dare to dream with the Welsh coming. Schmidt will have his troops prepared as Jamie Heaslip pointed out post match that neither the head coach or video analyst Mervyn Murphy would have time to watch last night’s Super Bowl as they would be huddled over this weekend’s action in anticipation of the next.
If winning ways can be sustained, that flickering of rugby passion will no doubt grow and who knows by the end of March the IRFU could be introducing us to an “official underwear partner” to Irish rugby!
Update: Since Ireland won the the RBS 6 Nations, there have yet to have been any “Official Undies Partners” announced by the IRFU!! However, Tommy Bowe has expanded his shoe range to a new clothing range XV Kings: