IT IS already one of the great beards in Scottish sporting history. And the good news, revealed by its proud owner yesterday, is that it could have several months of growing still to go.
Normally one of the unsung heroes of the Scotland squad, tighthead prop Geoff Cross has become one of the stars of the show in recent weeks thanks to the beard, which has swiftly achieved cult status in its own right. Leaving its humble beginnings as heavy stubble far behind, it is now approaching full-on Old Testament patriarch status. If it gets much longer it will probably be eligible for its own Scotland jersey.
The only other rugby player in the country to have boasted a facial appendage of such magnitude is Glasgow back-row Josh Strauss. It came as no surprise, then, to learn at yesterday’s team announcement that there is a direct connection between the two.
“I was at Glasgow for ten weeks last season and I talked to Josh Strauss,” Cross said after learning he is in the starting line-up to play Tonga at Rugby Park tomorrow. “And he said, ‘You know, Geoff, you say that after rugby you’re going to work as a medic, and I see you haven’t shaved for a few days – really I don’t think very many people would be happy if they went to a GP practice to talk about their sore back, looking to be reassured, and there was this man with this enormous beard. So really, this is the only time in your life that you’ve got to grow a beard. You should seize that opportunity.
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“And I said: ‘Josh, you know, you’re right’. It’s actually no deeper than that. If there’s competitions, I don’t know about them.”
There are competitions, and if Cross ever entered one he would probably win it hands down. With winter approaching, he has no desire at present to get rid of it, and explained that the best time for a clean shave would probably be when his wife gives birth in the spring. By that time, however, it should have become the grizzled veteran of an RBS Six Nations Championship campaign.
“I would like to see what a year’s growth would look like,” Cross admitted. “Let’s say end of the Six Nations, roughly. If I’m very lucky it will reach some sort of state of dynamic equilibrium when the hair falling out equals the hair growing and it never gets any bigger. But I think that takes longer than a year.
“I suspect it will be gone by the time the baby arrives. My wife has mentioned [the prospect of scaring the baby with the beard] as an anecdote from her formative years. So it’s probably the responsible thing to do.
“I don’t think it [the shave] will be ceremonial. It will probably be back at home, and my wife will probably say: ‘Why did you ever take this long to do what I told you?’”
As he only turns 32 next month, Cross could still have several years to go before he retires from rugby and turns to medicine, for which he is already qualified. He admitted that should he then be tempted to cultivate another beard he would have to find out about the health and safety rules.
“I don’t think so. I haven’t looked into it that deeply. Intuitively, though, I’d imagine there’s some sort of infection control risk. I should really go to a hospital and ask infection control about their policy on facial hair.
“Joking apart, there’s various bits of origami for the hair on your head, but there’s also things for beards to stop them falling into operating sites, which of course you don’t want. The many complications and wonders of facial hair – it’s hours of fun.”
And that fun has extended to airports, where – so far at least – no check-in staff have suggested that the bearded man in front of them bears no relation to the clean-shaven chap in his passport. “I’ve had one person on the desk say: ‘Let’s see if we can find you in there’. That was the most entertaining quote. But surprisingly no trouble at all with what’s clearly an unshaven person here and a very shaven person there.”
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