Partly what makes the Rugby World Cup so great is the contribution of the smaller nations. Who can forget Fiji last year who played in one of the greatest games in the history of the tournament when beating Wales and pushed South Africa hard in the quarter finals? The two best tries of 2007 were scored by Japan and the USA, flying end to end efforts. This year the impact of the smaller teams has been less even if their margins of defeat have shrunk. Tonga pulled off the win of RWC 2011 so far in beating France and will be kicking themselves over their careless loss to (a swiftly improving) Canada.
However, few players from the small sides usually make any teams of the tournament come its end. With this in mind I figured I’d draw up a team with as big a proportion of minnows (in as much as people like Todd Clever can be described as minnows) as possible to complement the more traditional teams of the tournament. ‘What team of the tournament,’ I hear you ask, ‘includes just one player from each of France, Wales, South Africa and England and yet two from each of Samoa, Canada, America and Namibia?’ Read on and you will find out…
15. Kurtley Beale (Australia)-I have nothing (much) against people who can’t grow facial hair-only people who can’t grow it and yet still try. It’s just embarrassing and doesn’t make anyone happy. The spectacular awfulness of Beale’s ‘tache, which looks a lot like he is impersonating Baldrick impersonating Charlie Chaplin, has him inked into my team.
14. Maxime Medard (France)-From the ridiculous to the sublime. The flying French winger follows in the footsteps of such great figures as Henrik Ibsen and uh, Wolverine with his fabulous mutton-chops. I’m not sure what his partner has to say about them, but if she’s anything like mine then he is flying the flag for hirsute men in the face of some serious criticism.
13. Seilala Mapusua (Samoa)-Pacific Islanders tend to be pretty terrifying at the best of times. When they’re accompanied by the shaggy mane of hair growing more or less at random out of Mapusua’s head I imagine opposition tacklers have to do some pretty serious buttock clenching. Not for him the culture of a Frenchman, more the untamed forests of the Pacific.
12. Ma’a Nonu (New Zealand)-For everything said about Pacific Islanders, double it for New Zealanders (who are really just normal Pacific Islanders with more sheep and bigger mountains). Nonu combines the speed and power of a raging rhino with hands as soft as his glorious locks. And no matter how tempting, I bet no-one tugs on them.
11. Alesana Tuilagi (Samoa)-Completing a distinctly South Sea feel to the back-line, Manu Tuilagi’s older brother is one of the terrors of the English Premiership. Even better than this man-mountain’s powerful running skills is his carefully braided hair, specifically designed to whip opposition wingers in the face as he streaks past (or over or through) them.
10. Tertius Losper (Namibia)-Regrettably half-backs seem to be the least adventurous when it comes to growing out their tresses. However, this man is doing his best to fly the flag for well haired rugby players everywhere. There’s not a lot of it (and certainly none on his face), but what he does have is tightly curled and absurdly bouncy. It’s entertaining if nothing else.
9. Piri Weepu (New Zealand)-As I’ve said, half-backs do not do hair well. I couldn’t find a single scrum-half with any decent hair at all but then, watching the highlights of New Zealand’s demolition of Australia in the semi-finals, I saw Piri Weepu. What a great beard. I mean really, it’s a smasher. The man can’t kick for toffee but he can grow hair, and that’s all that matters.
1. Adam Jones (Wales)-One member of what was probably the hairiest front row ever to actually scrum down (Duncan Jones’ blond locks complementing his brown ones perfectly) Jones is very much a member of the Martin Castrogiovanni (see below) school of propping. It would be great to see these three lock horns with the baldest front row in rugby history, that of the current Tongans.
2. Saia Fainga’a (Australia)-Not to be confused with his rather clean-cut namesake in the Australian team, Fainga’a has a fine head of braided hair. Unfortunately for him, the Australian rugby board seem to prefer the entirely bald Stephen Moore at hooker but with Jones and Castrogiovani in support, this man will certainly not look out of place.
3. Martin Castrogiovanni (Italy)-A true stalwart of the game, Castro has been one of the world’s best players for many years now. His secret is that other props can’t breathe when his abundant hair gets in their noses and mouths. All he has to be careful of is not treading on his fringe when he gets up after driving yet another unhappy opposition front row into the ground.
4. Richie Gray (Scotland)-Gray is a frankly terrifying prospect. As I am English, he is the sort of person that bogeymen tales are made of. The mere mention of him has me cowering under my bed. At least it would if it weren’t for his glorious thatch of blond hair flowing behind him, bouncing and flicking so beautifully…Ahem, excuse me, I think I may need to go lie down for a bit.
5. Victor Matfield (South Africa)-This, fortunately, is not a man to inspire any sort of lust in anything, except possibly a few really sex-starved bears deep in Alaska where they’re not totally sure about the difference between man and beast. In any case, it makes little difference here. Matfield is an animal, matched only for second-row hairiness and terror by a certain absent Sebastien Chabal.
6. Adam Kleeberger (Canada)-Kleeberger gets the captain’s armband in this team for what is absolutely the best beard in all sport. Actually, it is serious contender for world’s best beard full stop. Look at it and gaze in wonder. And then run home and cry because no matter how hard you try, you’ll never have a beard that good but it’s ok, because people will love you anyway…Sniff…
7. Todd Clever (USA)-It takes a brave man to have hair quite as long as Mr Clever’s, and that’s before you step onto a field were having your hair pulled is by far the least agonising thing that people might do to you. But somehow he pulls it off. It may have something to do with being reasonably enormous (a mere 6ft 4in and 16 stone) and quite scary, but I’m not sure.
8. Radike Samo (Australia)-Yes I know it’s a third Australian and as a punishment for being so accommodating to the enemy down under I have to go and down as much Fosters as possible once I’ve finished this article but I mean, come on. Have you seen his hair? I would have given Number 8 to Toby Faletau of Wales, but the silly boy went and cut it. Not enough commitment I’m afraid.
16. Phil Thiel (Hooker, USA)-It’s nothing outrageous, but if you want a man who can grow a very solid beard, this is the one for you. As far as length, coverage and adaptability go, Phil Thiel is right up there with the best of them. He won’t win any awards but considering the hair that’s likely to surround him in the front of the scrums, he doesn’t really need to.
17. Dan Cole (Prop, England)-The only English contribution to the team that wears its weight entirely above its shoulders is this magnificently bearded prop. What makes it even better is that it’s bright ginger. And getting bigger every day (yes, I know that’s what hair does, but he’s not shaving, see?). In an English team of clean-cut baby-faces, Cole is fighting back, chin first.
18. Jebb Sinclair (Second-Row, Canada)-A burly second-row or flanker, Sinclair cannot quite match his compatriot Kleeberger’s wall of hair but he does his best with a fine spade shaped beard and ‘tache combo. It has to be admitted that this is probably a more feasible aim for all you prospective beardies out there, and no-one will think you any the less if you take this guy as your mentor.
19. Givi Berishvili (Flanker, Georgia)-Although his beard is merely scrubby, Mr Berishvili gets the nod for his fine flowing locks. Dark curls tumble across his shoulders in a manner familiar to all those who have seen a Head and Shoulders advert-all he is missing is a shower and shoulders that he doesn’t have to turn sideways in order to fit through doors.
20. Jacques Burger (Flanker, Namibia)-Namibia’s captain has a fantastic head of bouncing, curly locks. However, the back-row seems to be a particularly profitable place to find well-bearded or long-locked rugby players and this place could have gone to any of many. Deserving of particular mention is Nick Easter for his recent incredible biker ‘tache. That’s how you do it Kurtley.
21. Luke McLean (Fly-Half/Full-Back, Italy)-McLean was a promising rugby player in Australia but decided he would have a better chance of getting a game in Italy. Since his arrival there he has devoted himself to shoring up the Italian team, becoming a world-class rugby player and hiding his features behind a large amount of hair. Samson-like, he always plays worse after he shaves.
22. Gabiriele Lovobalavu (Centre, Fiji)-The final man in the hairiest RWC 2011 squad and I can’t decide if his hair is one of the best or one of the silliest in the 22. It’s abundant, long, curly and it has some strange colours in it. However, it’s certainly enough to get him in the squad and the centres will lose none of their hairiness if he is brought on, and only a little of their fear factor.