The model of a modern rugby man

ONCE upon a time rugby players were generally associated with cauliflower ears, broken noses and a training regime based around pints of 80/-, and anything more than a bar of soap in the kit bag was an effete accessory.

How times have changed. Now they carry hair gel, knock back dietary supplements, spend hours in the weights room and are just as likely to be seen dashing off to a photoshoot after the match as propping up the bar.

One of those leading this stylish scrum is rugby league player Olly Foster, who juggles his matches with a part-time modelling career, and has just completed his fifth cover shoot for Men's Health.

After playing professionally for Carlisle from the age of 17, he was plagued by injuries and had to halt his career after a year and a half. He continued to play at amateur level, but at the age of 25 his injuries got so bad that a surgeon advised him to leave the game for a while. He was working as a personal trainer and looking for a new challenge when he stumbled on the website for a competition run by Men's Health to find a new cover model.

He beat a field of 3,000 entries to win the competition and his photograph graced the magazine's front cover for the first time. "It was quite surreal," he says. "You see it in the shops and then people are texting you, saying 'Is that you?'."

Olly, 30, thought it would be a life-changing moment and dived

straight into the London modelling scene.

But he soon found his rugby roots pulling him back. He says: "London is saturated with people trying to make it and I was 25 or 26, I think it was too much of a career change. I didn't want to be told that I had to change, to shave, how to dress, that I had to lose weight. Especially coming from a rugby background, rough and ready was the way I used to go.

"I went down to London and I was about 101kg, which is quite heavy for anyone, let alone someone who wants to model. I went down to 80, and the agency wanted me to lose more, to be more versatile for different jobs. I thought 'I've been training my whole life to try and put weight on and you're asking me to lose it'. It was a massive relief when I stopped and moved back north."

He now works about twice a year for Men's Health and has since moved to Edinburgh to help his step-dad run the Olly Bongo's sandwich shops, living just off Dalry Road.

He is working again as a personal trainer and is back on the pitch now playing for Edinburgh Eagles and the Scotland A team.

His most recent Men's Health shoot was in London on 13 February, and he had to look as lean as possible – and then fly straight up to Edinburgh for the following day's match against Welsh team Blackwood Bulldogs.

"It was tough, because I had to do the shoot then carb up," he says. "You deplete your carbs and dehydrate yourself so you've got no water between your skin and your muscle. Carbs are quite easy to put back on, but trying to rehydrate within 24 hours is the hard thing."

Olly is certainly not alone in combining the two. Charity calendars have provided an ideal opportunity for many players to show off their physiques. Edinburgh stars including Nick De Luca, Mike Blair, Tim Visser and Ben Cairns stripped off for a calendar to raise money for Maggie's Cancer Caring Centres, and Glasgow's Chris Cusiter and Thom Evans posed for a calendar to raise funds for Motor Neurone Disease Scotland.

There are also commercial contracts up for grabs. Simon Taylor became the face, and body, of Scotch Beef, and three more rugby stars are currently featured on Scott's Porage Oats packets.

The firm's Hayley Stringfellow said: "Partnering with Scottish Rugby is a natural fit for Scott's, as is having rugby legends Chris Paterson, Ross Ford and Thom Evans on the front of our packs.

"These men are extremely accomplished athletes, who need to keep themselves in top condition through training and eating well. Nutrition is paramount and the players are great role models for porridge fans."

The deal offers the chance for the firm to capitalise on the healthy, sporting image – and national pride. Hayley says: "The Scottish public take rugby very seriously and the players become national heroes. There has been a great deal of public support to their images being carried on Scott's packs."

Another man making the most of the trend is former Boroughmuir and Heriot's winger and Scotland sevens player, Charlie Keenan.

The 32-year-old former Fettes pupil's modelling career began as a student sideline. He says: "It was mostly started off with doing kilts for a friend's company, Geoffrey (Tailor), and just from that it snowballed. When you're at uni you just have to get by and if someone's going to pay you money to do it, then great."

His modelling career hit new heights when he did a fashion shoot for Caprice's lingerie line, and was approached by three agencies in Dubai, where he now lives.

There has, he agrees, been a clear change in attitude within the sport. "When I first started it, when I was at Heriot's, I didn't tell anyone because I didn't want to let on, and now it's common knowledge and people get sponsorship. When I played in Italy it was very much the thing that if you were a professional sportsman you were expected to do it all the time, so I think we were a bit backward."

Olly Foster points to the professionalisation of rugby union as a key factor in the rising number of image-concerned players. With more of them taking their training more seriously, thoughts of modelling are a natural progression. He says: "It's only when union turned professional they started taking things more professionally, so it goes hand-in-hand in terms of training. You're going to put on muscle and you keep yourself fit. You're going to fit the bill bodily – it just depends if you've got the face for it.

"Once you get into the circle of being in a gym-based environment you already have an image of how you want to look. You notice a lot of guys get more into the supplements and into the weights these days. They might use rugby as exercise, but it is a vanity thing as well. You get guys like Welsh star Gavin Henson, who gel their hair properly before games. It's not just about playing good but it's about looking good as well."

With TV appearances and celebrity girlfriends on the cards, the traditional flattened nose and cauliflower ears are also falling from favour. He says: "It used to be a normal with cauliflower ears to let them stay like that because it was a symbol that 'I play rugby' but now it's more common to get it drained."

So, is he ever tempted to dodge messy tackles to protect his face? "No, never," he laughs. "I don't get too concerned about it. To be honest with you, I much prefer the rugby."