Agnès Poirier: Calendar boys – it's a whole new ball game

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We had been told of the game's great virtues, its nobility and its valiant heroes. We had heard of scantily clad French rugby players exhibiting their va-va-voom on sought-after calendars. A whole generation of young British and French women had, however, to wait for this year's World Cup to fully grasp the reality of rugby.

First, we had to part with old-fashioned clichés, especially, if one has lived in France, of a game made for big brutes reeking of cassoulet. Then we had to quickly learn the rules. Yet nothing had prepared us for such a spectacle of virile competition.

This virility in action has set our pulses rising from the first scrum to the last kick of each match. We have been amazed to discover a game where players don't fall unless they're tackled, don't argue with the referee, hardly ever misbehave, don't systematically accuse their opponents of foul play, and who send off medics even when they have obviously taken a mighty beating. These warriors have deserved our boundless admiration. What a far cry from self-obsessed footballers.

We have fallen for a noble game and an alluring band of brothers. In France, the famous calendar 'Les Dieux du Stade' – Stadium Gods – had prepared us mentally. We knew we would eventually succumb. With 300,000 copies sold, number one of all calendars sold in France, the 2005 edition did for rugby what Marilyn Monroe did for cinema: inspired new vocations and gave birth to millions of new fans.

The black-and-white 2005 calendar shows every French player, including caveman Sébastien Chabal, posing in the nude or in the simplest of attire: a black leather G-string. The 2008 edition, which came out four weeks ago, is even kinkier: the naked players are chained to the stadium. There is also the making of a DVD, now a collector's item, but this may prove a little too hot to handle.

Five of the fittest

Jonny Wilkinson England - The fly-half with the magic boot is the housewives' choice – and their daughters'. Pictures of him emerging Daniel Craig-style from the sea are all over the internet.

Sébastien Chabal France - "The Caveman", "Sea Bass", "Rasputin"; call him what you will, more than a million people watched his YouTube clip. Voted sexiest man of the tournament.

Frédéric Michalak

France -The fly-half, 25, sports diamond ear studs and tattoos in risqué places, and sexes up the sport like no other. His popularity in hometown Toulouse is Beckhamesque.

Bryan Habana South Africa - "The Cheetah" is the highest try- scorer in the World Cup; he scores highly with the ladies, too. It wasn't just the winger's pace that kept all eyes on him last night.

Percy Montgomery South Africa - With his blond locks and tan, the "Maserati of full-backs" is the undisputed Springbok pin-up. He's also known as "the Peacock" due to his fondness for his hair.

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