By SUSAN PEPPERELL - Sunday Star Times
Richie McCaw as you've never seen him before.
A steamy video featuring half-naked New Zealand rugby players swapping jerseys is raising pulses in cyberspace, but has been kicked for touch by All Black legend Colin Meads.
The online campaign features five Super 14 players and invites fans to click on photos of two players, who then remove their jerseys and expose their chests before swapping tops. Once that's done, viewers are rewarded with the opportunity to click on a slow-motion replay button.
The men who reveal almost all are All Black and Crusaders captain Richie McCaw, Tamati Ellison of the Hurricanes, Ali Williams from the Blues, the Highlanders' Jimmy Cowan and Liam Messam of the Chiefs.
The adidas campaign was conceived to promote the new season Super 14 jerseys. It was intended to target women, and marketing manager John Beckett said the hit rate had been "
But Beckett was surprised to learn the ad had also attracted a large and appreciative gay following around the world. Comments posted on online gay sport websites range from "make a swap shorts site and I'll buy every adidas product known to man" to "I'm both disturbed yet strangely aroused."
Beckett was unfazed by the reaction, saying if "they want to follow rugby, that's fantastic".
Meads, meanwhile, is perplexed. He acknowledges today's players have a duty to their sponsors, but he's just not sure if it means having to go all the way. "Beautiful bodies are not what rugby players are about. Us forwards, we never prided ourselves on looking great, that's for sure."
Otago University's gender studies head, Annabel Cooper, says no one should be surprised by the overt eroticism of the ads. Studies on the use of men's bodies in advertising have noted their appeal to the gay market since the 1980s.
Cooper says the objectification of men in advertising is "not one of the biggest issues we confront" but what is disturbing is the degree of attention we give to appearance, an issue first with women and now increasingly with men.
Still, what McCaw, Williams et al get up to on the internet is tame compared to the way three of their British counterparts who, covered only in a little strategic soil and sweat, bare all for the sake of a sports drink. Paul Sackey, Steve Borthwick and Shane Williams may have been issued with their official kit, but they're certainly not shy about having to get it off.