Fashion meets Sport
Lineout went behind the scenes of an Eden Park fashion shoot with members of the Six Nations-winning Irish rugby squad and talked style, thick necks and summer holidays. Sam Griffin reports
The Irish rugby boys are nothing but competitive, even when it comes down to deciding who should take the centre position in a fashion photo-shoot with French brand Eden Park, who are the official formal-wear supplier to the IRFU.
As they line out after male grooming with a hairdresser and make-up artist who pats off any shiny brows with powder, a playful row breaks out over who will stand in the middle of the white backdrop.
Grinning deviously, the boys settle it in the most diplomatic of fashions - on how many times they have lined out for the country. Between them, they have more than 60 caps.
On the other side is another Leinster man, Ian Madigan, with his 18 caps. They're laughing and joking and posing for the French photographer, Fred Goudon, who has flown in with a crew to capture the Six Nations victors.
The boys look dapper in their Six Nations navy suits, complete with white shirts, brand new tan shoes and bright pink bow-ties. Rugby players, by their nature, tend to be oddly-shaped individuals with bulging necks and broad shoulders, but toned torsos and powerful legs.
A thick neck might be the difference between winning and losing a scrum, but it's not ideal when you're trying to find a fitted shirt and rugby players' physiques can all make for some unusual tailoring requirements.
Suiting and booting an entire rugby team - managers and all - is a big job and one that requires planning and preparation down to the nth degree. Mindful of such, every year an Irish delegation goes to Paris, where the suits are made by Eden Park, who also dress the English, Italian and French rugby unions.
Last time round Sean O'Brien did the honours, and the consensus is that the man from Tullow did a good job.
"In fairness to him, he's nailed it," says Jordi when asked what he thinks of the suits during a brief lull in the photo shoot.
"Yeah, Sean surprised everyone," Ian agrees with a smile, before adding that he actually thinks it's the nicest suit he has in his wardrobe.
Jordi chips in: "We don't like to remind Sean too much but he did a good job this time round."
The man in question, who describes himself as "a safe dresser," takes the praise with a pinch of salt. "I did enjoy going over to Paris and looking at the suits. I had a blue suit myself which I got made for me a year or two ago by Paddy Sheary, the suit maker in Dublin," he says.
Clearly liking that colour, he spent a day with Eden Park, who gave him "ten or 20 different options and then you narrow it down. You have to think about things like getting the pockets right and pick out what way the buttons should be.
"Obviously we're different to most people in terms of size - our necks are quite big and then the bodies slightly different again, so that requires a lot of tailoring on the jackets and the shirts to be done," he adds.
The side's outfits for the forthcoming Rugby World Cup, selected by Leinster and Ireland winger Dave Kearney, works on the same colour combination. Their navy suit has a green lining and an inside pocket embroidered with the player's name and the IRFU logo. It will be worn with a white shirt with green popper buttons on the cuffs, green tie and matching handkerchief.
In one sequence of shots Sean and Jordi come to Ian's aid, appearing to 'fix' his bow-tie. There's also a 'helpful' pat on the head by Jordi, who makes sure Ian's hair is sitting right.They're each stylish guys in their own right. Ian says he really likes a lot of the offerings from Howick this season. And Ted Baker as well. He adds that his flat peaked hat is probably his 'hero' look.
Jordi lists Zara among his shopping outlets and would opt for a casual shirt and jumper look if he's heading out on a night. Otherwise he opts for "comfortable Monday to Friday" and has recently added to his collection of basketball jerseys which he frequently wears around the house.
They agree that Luke Fitzgerald, Conor Murray and Robbie Henshaw are some of the smarter dressers in the Ireland squad. Full-back Rob Kearney is, allegedly, at the other end of the spectrum.
"Rob was quite a good dresser a few years ago but he has gone backwards," Ian says tongue firmly in cheek. "It's just not working out for Rob. He's trying too hard. He's getting old as well. He wouldn't be as in touch as the young guys."
When it comes to 'hero' pieces, Sean says: "I would wear chinos a lot and I have a grey and a navy Eden Park T-shirt which I got as freebies when I went over to pick out the suits. They're two T-shirts I wear a good bit."
The pink bow-ties were not an accidental choice. Back in May 1987 at the Racing Club de France (the club which ultimately became Racing Metro, where Johnny Sexton and Ronan O'Gara have worked for the last two years), Franck Mesnel and his team-mates played the finals of the French Championship against Toulon, wearing pink bow-ties. While his side lost the game, their story became a fashion legend, and when Franck launched the Eden Park fashion brand, he named it after the stadium in New Zealand where France lost the inaugural Rugby World Cup final.
The rugby connections come through in every direction at our shoot. Eden Park's Irish agent is Ollie Campbell who, like Ian Madigan, wore the number 10 jersey for Ireland.
The legendary Campbell was the architect-in-chief of Ireland's 1982 Triple Crown victory and it's like history repeating itself because Campbell kicked all of Ireland's 21 points (including a career-best six penalties) against Scotland at Lansdowne Road to secure the Triple Crown 33 years ago.
The Dublin shoot at the Clyde Court Hotel in Ballsbridge concludes with a few action photos as the lads toss around a rugby ball. No sooner has the photographer put down his camera than Sean is out of his suit, back into his shorts and out into the sunshine.
Attention turns to plans for the summer, when the trio's Leinster and Ireland team-mate Sean Cronin's wedding and stag do is on the agenda. Sean hopes to get to Las Vegas at some stage and might take in Conor McGregor's UFC fight if he can. Jordi is eyeing up a sun holiday somewhere in Europe. Ian is undecided. First there is the matter of Leinster's date with Toulon.
After the holidays, the attention will turn back to Cardiff and Wembley and World Cup aspirations.