f-words, part 2: “Fags”

The second in a short series of articles about rugby’s f-words: Fixtures, Fags and Fuddling About. As I noted via a link in yesterday’s article on fixture freedoms, in British and Australasian slang “fags” are cigarettes.


140417 rugby-cigarettes-1920sToday they are banned nearly everywhere. You cannot smoke in trains, airplanes, restaurants, cinemas or pubs. But it was not always so. In the early 1950s, nearly 60% of all men smoked. Cigarettes were still de rigueur (‘Player’s Please’), in fact most indulged, it was the social norm. Many pre-war cigarette advertisers used the image of rugby to promote their brands. The Bristol firm of W.D & H.O Wills ran a campaign for their Three Castles brand in the 1920s confirming the All Blacks regularly smoked them on tour – there was even a British American Tobacco brand called ‘Rugby’.

During the 1970s Willie Duggan an Irish international and Lions forward, on one occasion was smoking a cigarette as he ran on to the field to play against France, passing the cigarette to Scottish referee Allan Hosie, who was pictured holding the cigarette in the television coverage. He was once told by a coach that if he gave up the smokes he would be faster around the pitch. Typical of Willie’s wit he replied ‘but then I would spend most of the match offside’.

Around the same time All Black wing and captain, Stu Wilson, was a heavy smoker – but it didn’t stop him scoring 50 tries. He also claimed that French rugby legend Serge Blanco would go through three packets of smokes before a big game!

The successful British Lions’ captain Willie John McBride smoked a pipe, and as late as 1999, he was awarded “Pipe Smoker of the Year” at a dinner at the Savoy hotel London. England’s Tom Palmer was bemused by some aspects of rugby in France when playing for Stade Français a few years ago. Apart from the different training regimes and laid back two-hour lunches, he commented: ‘a lot of the guys used to light up, typically after training’.

Times have changed. England coach Stuart Lancaster has warned his squad about “cheeky cigarettes”. Any stars caught having a crafty fag could miss out on their dream of playing in the 2015 World Cup.


140417 cigarette_card

Image, Rugby advert available for purchase from: www.vinmag.com.

Image, ABC of Sport: Malvern RFC’s Jock Rott Column.


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