Good Face

In the ever-fascinating world of fans’ perception of players and their abilities, one factor that’s surprisingly important is what the player looks like – both to male and female fans alike.  Male rugby fans may not be considered the most meterosexual bunch, but make no mistake, looks matter.

Demented Mole, under his ‘Hugonaut’ guise on the Leinsterfans’ forum, once wrote that he thought Rory Best to be just as good a player as Jerry Flannery, but that Flannery’s hair and superman posture generally elevated people’s perceptions of him, while Rory Best was bald when he was 23 and looks like a Nordie farmer.  It was a fair point.  I’ve seen Flannery’s hair in person and it really is extraordinary.  Who wouldn’t allow it to colour their opinion slightly?  What a player looks like can have a surprising influence on just how he’s perceived by the public.

Some players undeniably have what Moneyballers refer to as ‘good face’.  Having ‘good face’ needn’t mean being good looking in the conventional sense, though that hardly hurts either.  Sergio Parisse would be a brilliant player no matter what he looked like, but it’s no harm that he looks like a film star while trying to fill all 15 positions for the Azzuri.  And the reliably invigorating sight of David Wallace smashing defenders hither and yon was only improved by his looking so ruggedly handsome in the process.  Few would be ashamed to admit a slight man-crush on either.

The player with the best face in Irish rugby right now is Peter O’Mahony, with Donnacha Ryan in close pursuit.  In fact, they both look rather alike.  Neither are what you’d call conventionally handsome, but they both have amazing features: deep-set eyes and weird bone structure.  They look permanently angry, ready to start a fight at a moment’s notice.  Perfect, then, for the all-out war that is the forward battle on a rugby pitch.

The interesting thing is that O’Mahony’s face has had a misleading effect on how he’s perceived as a player.  Mention O’Mahony’s name and people will tell you he’s a fearsome warrior who won’t take a backward step, as tough as they come.  Have a look at his snarling features and you wouldn’t doubt it.  But watch him in action, and in fact, you’ll probably conclude he’s not really that type of player.  Yes, he has a tendency to look for trouble on the pitch, but the faux-hardman act is really his weakest suit and something he shouldn’t bother with.

In fact, he takes a backward step fairly often.  He slips the odd tackle and, for a blindside, isn’t great at trucking slow ball around the corner of the ruck and over the gainline.  He’s no Joe Worsley.  What he is, however, is a talented footballer; a very skilful handler, brilliant lineout forward, and a slightly willowy flanker who can get up a good gallop when further out from the ruck, where he can use his long-armed hand-off to good effect and is capable of beating defenders in a little bit of space.  His ground and tracking skills are also very useful.  His skillset is really closer to, say, that of Jamie Heaslip’s than many have let on or than you might think – by the look of him anyway.

Another whose appearance can be deceptive – in a different way – is Tom Croft.  He looks every inch the English yeoman, magnificent of physique and with a chiselled face that can only be honed in the finest English public schools.  It’s tempting to believe the hype that he’s the world’s best blindside.  Now, Crofty is not a player without his strengths, and his good moments can be spectacular, but he doesn’t influence a game over 80 minutes.  And no blindside should ever be bundled into touch by Paddy Wallace.  He’s just not quite as good as he looks.

Demented Mole recently wondered aloud why Devin Toner was such a figure of ridicule outside – and sometimes inside – Leinster. The answer might just be the cut of the chap.  Not quite filling out his 210cm frame and with a face that looks almost boyish, he doesn’t quite fit the desired mould of second row hardman.  Regardless of how good he is or isn’t, prehaps he just doen’t have ‘good face’.  Don’t underestimate it.



  1. Found this piece humorous until the Toner punchline/moral. The reason I – and I suspect others – are not convinced by Toner is not because he is tall and gangly, it is because he does not deliver: neither in the lineout (consistently and certainly not on defensive lineouts) nor in the scrum (ever). He doesn’t clear out rucks well either. So, if he isn’t doing the three basic chores of a second row, it doesn’t matter if he is a total ride-bag or a spitting image of Paul O’Connell, there is the nagging suspicion he just isn’t up to it…and plastic surgery won’t help.

    • However, I might apply your argument to Bent – who is slightly more presentable and athletic than Mike Ross and whose arrival was much trumpeted by the IRFU and Goebbels but who has turned out to be a totally rubbish scrummager (as evidenced again on Saturday). You would though.

    • Anonymous

       /  January 14, 2013

      For me, Devin’s primary problem is that he is a dead ringer for John Cleese, including the ludicrous extendo-legs, but isn’t nearly as funny.

    • Fair comments all, Curates Egg. Just so we’re clear: we’re not making any apologies here for the flaws in Toner’s game – merely commenting that his appearance has probably gone at least some of the way towards him being something of a derisory figure in some quarters.

  2. Ah jaysus lads, and not a mention of gorgeous Rob Kearney …………………… Oh dear was I suppose to think that but not say it, ooops!

  3. Johnny

     /  January 14, 2013

    What chance for Henderson then?

  4. simon o'keeffe

     /  January 14, 2013

    special mention for tom denton; odd scrumcap, slouchy posture, rolled down socks contributing to his unpopularity among leinster fans

    and girvan dempseys cbs maths teacher look may have added to his calm/sensible/solid/tactical air

  5. Jimbob

     /  January 14, 2013

    A very good point. I remember a few years ago a friend writing off Jonny Sexton because he “didn’t look like a rugby player”. I myself wrote him off because I didn’t think he was good enough! How wrong we both were.
    On the matter of looks making up a world xv how about…
    1. Healy
    2. Swarzewski/ Brits
    3. Euan murray/ AdamJones
    4. Ryan
    5. POC
    6. Croft
    7. Robshaw
    8. Parisse
    9. Phillips
    10. Carter
    11. Jane
    12. SBW
    13. BOD
    14. O’Connor
    15.Rob Kearndashian

    Have I maybe taken this a bit far?

  6. Exile

     /  January 14, 2013

    I’ve often wondered about the link between a sportsman’s good looks and his success as a sportsman.

    Consider the likes of David Beckham, Muhammed Ali, O’Driscoll, Carter, McCaw, Wilkinson.

    Could there be a link between them being fine specimens of manhood, their popularity with the fairer sex (particularly in the formative 14 – 18 years), the confidence that would give them and then their success as athletes?

    Or am I over-thinking this?

    • solidalarry

       /  January 14, 2013

      For every Cristiano Ronaldo, there’s a plain old Ronaldo.

  7. Michael

     /  January 14, 2013

    For my money O’Mahony isn’t that good at all. As you’ve pointed out, he isn’t a great tackler, but when you compare him in other departments, ball carrying, lineout (catching or lifting), strength, pace, skills to the other potential Irish no.6’s (Ferris, SoB, Kevin Mclaughlin, Henderson, Henry, even Tuohy), I don’t think there is a single attribute (other than a scary face) he stacks up well in….

    • POM has suffered from a bit of over-hype from certain quarters, but that doesn’t mean he’s not a good player. He’s not a granite-hewn 6 in the mould of Dan Lydiate or Stephen Ferris, but I wouldn’t underestimate the value of forwards with good handling ability. Although we’ve yet to be backed up by consistent evidence to support the theory, we think he’d be a better No.8 than a blindside.

      As for his lineout skills… I can’t see him doing much lifting, but his ability in the air is top-notch.

      • Michael

         /  January 14, 2013

        Agreed, i certainly wasn’t saying he was a bad player – most teams would welcome him with open arms. He’d still be my 5th choice blindside for Ireland though (given all that can play there can only play there).

        In terms of a lineout jumper – agreed he is decent for a backrow, but will never be rated as top notch as a 2 or 4 jumper, and that’s where most of the action is (throws to the tail are rarely contested anyway). If the next best part of his game is catching and passing thats a bit of a backhanded compliment.

        As for a number 8, he doesn’t have the power or speed to make enough yards from the base of the scrum when its most needed. Someone like Nick Williams would have him for dinner.

  8. Daveo

     /  January 14, 2013

    This made me think of Geoff Parling. Whenever I see him line out I always think he looks more like someone who should be designing a new website for a client rather than lining out in the 2nd row for England.

  9. Primus Maximus

     /  January 14, 2013

    Grizzly / ugly may be an asset in the front row. Gurthro Steenkamp looks like a vulva and Census Johnstone looks like a Sci Fi baddie, and the assumption is that they are therefore fearsome front row operators.
    Declan Kidney also suffers because he is not a screw.

    • Absolutely. Erik Lund, although not a front row, is another who certainly benefits from looking absolutely terrifying.

  10. solidalarry

     /  January 14, 2013

    Chabal – highlight reel player, more than anything, but has the look so became an icon.

    • Yes indeed, solidalarry, he’s a classic of the ‘looks better than he played’ genre. I think his best moment was staring down the Kiwi haka, as opposed to something within the 80 minutes of any game.

    • That man was definitely all style and no substance. Most overrated player in the world ever?

      • solidalarry

         /  January 14, 2013

        @WoC – no need to be formal, Larry is fine (my name keeps changing as I’m useless with technology) but, being serious, Seabass was certainly not all that – and whenever he started for France there was almost inevitably someone I really rated left out. Am I imagining this, or was he put in ahead of Harinordoquy for a time? Madness.

        @CE – possibly, although I don’t think he was 100% shit. He was/is a forward’s fancy dan – some massive moments, and these can do more than look good on YouTube, but I’d have Lydiate (the man with no highlights, just work) any day. Thankfully in Ireland right now we have a combination of the two in Stevie – Ulster fans like myself enjoying double doses – and hopefully he can get those creaking joints off the treatment table in time for a good chunk of the 6N.

        Actually, @both – most overrated I’ve ever seen is Cipriani. What is that all about? At least Henson, who gets similarly daft media attention, has shown himself to have considerable talent, even if his other issues are myriad, complex, utterly overwhelming and have never shown signs of improvement.

  11. 100% agree that one of the reasons I find it hard to rate toner as a player is how awkward he looks when running around the pitch. In terms of actual rugby do think that he is trying, in his own way, but he just doesn’t win or steal enough lineouts for his size, and tends to slow down and look quizzically at rucks rather than hitting them hard (even carr is better in terms of enthusiasm in this department, if not actual ability).

  12. pete (buachaill on eirne)

     /  January 14, 2013

    Dan Carter………….Wilkinson has to be moved to 12…..oh well!
    I’d also throw in Victor Mathfield.
    Jaysus who could forget hernandez either what a dream boat!
    Tommy Bowe?

    There are guys who I dislike though and their appearance doesn’t help matters
    Chris Aston! I want to punch him ALL THE TIME.
    Dylan Hartley looks like a thug and acts like a thug. I judge accordingly although not saying justifiably.
    Parra is the MOST ANNOYING guy in the world!

    Roncero would make a great uncle or grandad also

  13. Stevo

     /  January 15, 2013

    This is why I feel Kearney the Younger will never scale the heights his brother has. Handsome Rob can do little wrong, but Presentable Dave has a lot to prove.

  14. Anonymous

     /  January 15, 2013

    I must be missing the point of this article I thought Leo C was the Irish pin-up boy

  15. toro toro

     /  January 15, 2013

    “The player with the best face in Irish rugby right now is Peter O’Mahony, with Donnacha Ryan in close pursuit. In fact, they both look rather alike. Neither are what you’d call conventionally handsome, but they both have amazing features: deep-set eyes and weird bone structure. They look permanently angry, ready to start a fight at a moment’s notice.”

    They are both Big Ed Hurley, and I claim my five pounds.

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