England Rugby ‘brand’ needs a household hero.

Where’s the spirit of London 2012, RWC2015?

Back in 2003 the England rugby team were riding high on the back of several years’ good results and a consistent team selection. It was all part of the plan. Jonny had been practicing landing drop goals in England games for years already. He was already famous for his kicking prowess. It was his destiny to be lining up for that winning drop goal. People watched that team because of people like him.

I’ve played rugby since I was 8 and want the sport to grow in popularity and support. Having the world cup in England is a fantastic opportunity. I fear it hasn’t got the traction in the wider public that it could have.

The football world values the image and impact high-profile players bring to a club and the sport in general. Very highly indeed if you look at the eye watering values players change hands at. But having a Messi, a Beckham, an Henry in your side boosts more than just results. People go to games, buy merchandise, read the news, and comment on social media because of big names.

Take a look at the England squad going to this event. Potential, improving, young. But try and name more than three…

Compare to the squad going into 2003. Names like Martin Johnson, Richard Hill, Neil Back, Will Greenwood, Jason Robinson, Josh Lewsey, Matt Dawson, Lawrence Dallaglio, Lewis Moody… and Jonny. Match winners, individual superstars, world class individuals, an established team and importantly, household names and heroes-elect.

In the warm up games, the most exciting play has come from some of the least capped players, the guys in the backs with flair and nothing to lose and everything to gain. These guys could end up being the heroes of 2015 but nobody knows them yet. I’m not suggesting I could pick a better squad than Stuart Lancaster but this is a branding and image point I’m making.

It’s telling that one of the highest profile players is ex-Rugby League superstar Sam Burgess. People have followed his journey switching codes and the debate about whether he should be included in the squad. Consensus of opinion is that he’ll bring a lot to the squad but won’t start the big games.

This squad will have to get results to bring the wider public with them and support will grow. They don’t have it yet and I’m certainly not feeling the pride, hope, anticipation or unity that was so prevalent across the 2012 Olympics. I’m not seeing anyone outside of the rugby community talking about it much on social media, more comments actually from the marketing community about O2 Wear the Rose campaign. Are they doing more than the RFU to boost public support?

There’s no-one’s name to shout for yet. There’s no individual who’s shoulders the nations hopes are resting on. Yes, we’re in with a chance but the game, the England rugby brand, Twickenham and the Red Rose needs a stronger USP, a hero or two to call our own.

Perhaps it is intentional and cleverly managed so as to deflect media attention and pressure from the players. If so, kudos to whoever managed it. But I hope the world cup explodes into life over the next 48 hours as it’s been very subdued in the build up so far.


Will Rees-Hooper