The world of the Scrummie
We delve into rugby's equivalent of a footballer's WAG - and find that life is far removed from the glamour of their soccer counterparts
Wednesday 28 January 2009
Yes, she's done some modelling. Yes, she is very easy on the red-blooded male's eye. Yes, she treads her fair share of red carpet. And yes, she is dating a famous sportsman.
But mention the 'W' word and Felicia Field-Hall's good looks might just be spoiled by the slightest hint of a frown.
The girlfriend of England's James Haskell is, if you want to use the phrase, a Scrummie - the tabloids' term for anyone on the arm of a rugby player - the oval ball equivalent of the WAGs, that band of designer-clad, champagne-quaffing women who, during the 2006 football World Cup, accounted for nearly as many column inches as their other halves' sporting exploits with their drunken karaoke, exorbitant bar bills and shopping trips that would put a dent in third world debt.
Surely not, then, an image any self-respecting Scrummie would want to be labelled with.
The profile of England's rugby stars has risen to heights never dreamed of in the amateur days, and there is no question that with more muscle clad in less kit than in the era of the beer belly and heavy-knit shirt, interest from the female of the species has experienced a similar surge.
But are we nearing a tipping point now where anyone on the arm of one of Johhno's boys is in danger of being painted into the same box as football's hairdos on heels?
"I think the connotations of being a Scrummie are quite different to a Wag," says Field-Hall, who has been dating the Wasps No.8 for four years.
"I'm not saying a WAG is necessarily a bad thing but it is becoming quite a tabloid cliche - the whole handbag-brandishing, high heel-wearing girlfriend.
"But the nice thing about rugby is that if you ask any of the wives or girlfriends what they do, you'll find out they have strong careers.
"I work in TV and have a friend who works in the Houses of Parliament, another one is training to be a barrister, so if you compare the WAG/Scrummie lifestyles they are quite different.
"Aside from anything we don't have quite the same money to spend on bags and shoes that WAGs do!
"I think we're more scarved and clothed and coated at Twickenham than some of the girls are at the football. We are a slightly different breed of girl I suppose."
Respected rugby journalist, former RFU press officer and author of The WAG's Diary - a tale of the life of the 'Queen Wag of Luton Town FC', Alison Kervin agrees that the rugby wives she used to mix with were nothing like her star character.
"When I worked with England one of my main jobs was making sure wives and girlfriends were looked after," she says.
"The thing that used to really annoy the wives was when some of the RFU committee members' wives would come up to them and say 'Whose wife are you?'
"The wives would say, 'my name's Penny, I'm a doctor, I have three degrees and I just happen to be going out with someone who is playing for England'.
"You get the feeling in football that it's quite the reverse and they're happy to be defined by performing this particular role which is the wife of a footballer and anything else you do stops immediately you become a wife."
Kervin admits though that there has been a change in the type of women seen with the players these days.
"You get more women and younger women at rugby today," she says.
"In the past the sort of girls attracted to rugby players probably met them at university - the sort of barbour brigade. They were very friendly with them and sat and drank pints with them.
"Now, to be honest, the men are more attractive and girls can see how much fitter and stronger they are. They're even linked with male grooming products these days.
"Can you imagine Willie John McBride advertising some face cream? Today you get Gavin Henson who won't go on the pitch without his fake tan. It's so different."
Different, yes, but glamorous? Not always.
Field-Hall's account of life as the significant other of one of the red rose's finest sounds far removed from the 'footballers' wives' culture Kervin discovered to be such a rich seam for her fictitious tales.
"We are going out with professional sportsmen which is supposed to be glamorous but to be honest a lot of the time you're just supporting their needs," says Field-Hall.
"They need to concentrate on rugby 24 hours a day, every day of every week. They're completely disciplined, their priority is their sport and they are totally focused. We have to work around that.
"They go away a lot as well so you have to be quite self-sufficient, you have to understand that they have a bloody hard time and when you're with them they want to relax and do something that will take their minds off it for an hour or two.
"We do talk about rugby a bit but I think it's nice for him to talk about something else otherwise it's completely engulfing."
It's hard to imagine Kelly Brook discussing the finer points of Danny Cipriani's charge-down problem with him though. Brook is perhaps a new phenomenon in the world of the Scrummies - a bona fide celebrity girlfriend of the highest profile player in the country.
Could this be the beginning of a shift towards that Wag culture that rugby's other halves are so keen to repel?
"Danny Cipriani has that pop star quality with the whole Kelly Brook thing going on, but we don't want to tip the balance too far and don't want them turn into footballers," says India Grey, a lifelong rugby fan and author of one of eight new Mills & Boon rugby-themed romance novels.
"I hope the men will prevent that by the very nature of who they are and the qualities they have. I hope the Gavin Henson look is a bit of a one off, but he does appear to be perma-tanned and gelled. I don't want that look spreading through the sport!"
With talk of abandoning the salary cap, spiralling wages, ever-increasing TV and tabloid coverage and constant predictions from the game's money men that the sport in every way is heading down the same path as football, isn't it only a matter of time before rugby attracts its first career Scrummie?
Kervin says: "I think there probably were women who used to think 'Ooh Lawrence Dallaglio drinks there, we'll go there', but that's quite a different thing from what happens in football when you just want to be with a footballer.
"With those women it's not about whether he's nice and kind and loves his mother and wears the right clothes.
"If these women wrote a list of the characteristics they want in a man, that all goes out the window if he's a footballer.
"I'd be amazed if that ever happens in rugby. Culturally and socially it's very different. The sport is never going to reduce itself to that level."
The Prince's Waitress Wife, the first title in the limited edition Mills & Boon International Billionaires series, launches on 1 February.
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