Whether scrumhalves or flankers, they are built like tanks these days. Irish rugby stars are top athletes in prime condition, strong and ferociously powerful, their physiques geared to the battles they face on the field. But off-duty, their bodies can be difficult to dress because of their musculature.
"They are shaped like Vs" says Florent Rossigneux, himself a former rugby player, now UK business development manager of the French company Eden Park which kits out the Irish, Italian, French and UK teams for the Six Nations.
“We had to learn how to cater for the shape of the players when we started in the 1980s”, he says.
“Essentially we played around with the cut of the suit, designed special patterns and widened some jackets and sleeves. We have to cater for big bottoms and big legs so we have made up trousers to suit their physiology and derrieres and we do up to XX Large in sizes. A lot of thought goes into the product.”
It's the little details that count. The green press studs on the cuffs rather than buttons are for ease of removal, the mouchoir de poche or pocket handkerchief is actually part of the pocket and just pulls out and the Irish shamrock is inside the suit – not too obvious – and also discreetly embossed on the green ties.
"The suiting is adapted to the country; for Ireland, the lining is green. The union send a team to Paris and we all work together – we come up with ideas but it is up to the players what they like. It is massively important that they feel part of the process," says Rossigneux.What are the differences, say, between the approaches of the Irish versus the French teams to their formal dress? In his opinion the Irish and the Anglo-Saxons are more fashion conscious whereas the French are more classic. "The attitude of the Anglo-Celts is definitely that if we look good, we play good and looking good makes us more appealing and stronger."
We spoke to three members of the Irish team – Chris Henry, Jamie Heaslip and Simon Zebo about their style preferences.
Chris Henry is 30 is from Belfast, back row, plays for Ulster and Ireland and is the son of an air traffic controller. "I normally just wear jeans and shirts and actually got my first made-to-measure shirt by Hugo Boss for a wedding in Belfast. The problem with shirts is that there is too much fabric around the waist – and I have the same problems with jeans as the quads are so big. I'd never wear skinny jeans – wouldn't have the courage. I tend to shop all in one go and wouldn't be afraid of spending a lot in one day – on shoes particularly as I'm a size 12 which is hard to get.
"For day-to-day dressing it's all about comfort and I'm not into brands. My girlfriend Jade keeps me on my toes and anything she chooses always fits well. I was always quite jealous of Paddy Wallace (the retired Belfast rugby union player) because he could wear leather jackets and tight clothes because of his small build. I like dressing up – at a recent wedding I wore a bow tie and a pocket handkerchief and that was fun, not what I'm used to. As for grooming I like a bit of stubble, so I never shave down completely.
"We are told what to wear at each training session on our phones, so it gets a bit like a school uniform, so it's good to get the freedom to wear what you want though it's difficult to buy off the rack. I shop around Victoria Square in Belfast – I like Cruise – the most I ever spent was £300 on a grey jumper, but I knew it would last and it looked great. The watch I'm wearing was given to us after the Ireland v Barbados match in 2010 – it is sentimental. I studied geography and I remember in my last year at school thinking I could make a career out of rugby and that I would have regretted not giving it a chance. What I love about it is the friendship and the craic and the competitiveness. It's a way for a young man to release testosterone."
Simon Zebo is 24, wing or fullback for Munster and Ireland. Known as the twinkle-toed prince of Irish rugby "I like wearing a suit for a change, for special occasions. Generally, I wear slim fit jeans like Armani, a jacket and sometimes hoodies and I am quite fond of my blue and white onesies (probably from Penneys).
“I do think about clothes, but it varies. I could be very smart sometimes and then unbelievably casual depending on the day and my mood. For a night out I would be quite methodical about how I plan my clothes and dressing up. I usually shop on my own and might buy nothing for a month, then a lot online at the weekend. I like Asos and have got quite a few cool jumpers and hoodies from them.
“I am not into brands and certainly wouldn’t wear really skinny jeans because I don’t have the figure – they’re more a soccer player thing.
“My style icon? Pharrell Williams because I love his originality and the way he can pull off anything from waistcoats to hoodies and can look like a cool gangster one minute and something else the next. He has such variety and is a trendsetter.
“I like Converse runners and have them in different colours to match. I like retro things and things you wouldn’t see others wearing like cool jumpers, t-shirts and sometimes I buy different outfits overseas in Paris or London.
“I always shave two days before a match so it is the length I like – I’m conscious of grooming. We’re competitive (when it comes to style) and after training talk about who is looking the sharpest and you feel sorry for those who wearing training gear all day. Athletes can be brands pretty much these days and for rugby players, your body is your business and if you want to build your brand, fashion is part of it.”
Jamie Heaslip is 30 and plays at number eight for Leinster and Ireland (67 caps). He was born in Israel (his father was in the UN in Lebanon) and grew up in Co Kildare "Everyone is into clothes and fashion, but I didn't wear jeans until I was 13 – didn't like the feel of them and refused to wear them. I've always swum against the tide and that was my first rebellion. I have a big bum and big thighs and they don't reflect well in jeans.
“My normal outfit is a fleece, t-shirt, shorts and trainers coming into winter. If I have to meet people I try and dress for the context – it could be chinos and a polo for a business meeting. I don’t wear suits for business. People make a quick decision about you when they meet you first and you frame that instant impression so you set yourself off on a good foot. I think smart casual is a nice way to be.
“Suits to us are a novelty – Eden Park make beautiful ones which we wear after every international and for every formal engagement and we are involved in each step. Little differences count. I have two tuxedos and two suits in dark navy and a nice grey one.
"I treated myself to a bespoke two-piece from Paddy Sheary in Clarendon Street and you feel a million dollars in one. He explains the little details like how each button on the sleeve has a buttonhole that works. I got it for special occasions when I have to attend a sponsorship engagement and when I need one on the money that hits home really well.
"I do a lot of online shopping with Mr Porter and Asos is great and I shop when I am abroad like in New York.
“I like to have a nice haircut and may as well go for it while I have hair. Emmet is my man in the Butcher Barber – I love Kiehl’s products and I get the JFK fragrance from Parfumaria in the Westbury Centre.
“I am into watches. I am quite smart with my money and have had a pension since my first pay check at 21.
"I like to mark special occasions, achievements and milestones with classic pieces. My Breitling was bought for the British and Irish Lions Tour to South Africa in 2009. I won't sell them – you have classic watches for life.
“We gave my dad an Omega Seaman for his 50th and there’ll be a battle amongst his three sons someday. I like formal shoes – Todds make nice brogues and I have two brown ones.
“I am quite methodical so when I find something I like I have no problem spending it on something that will last. I look after shoes with shoe horns.
“I can’t take money to the grave, so you might as well have a good time with it and that is why I like to treat myself sometimes, but first things first.”