I’ve appeared naked in public. I try not to think about it too much. I was young, training to be an actor and appearing in a performance of ‘Epsom Downs’ by Howard Brenton. Our director was, how do I put this, somewhat enamored with the male form, so he decided he wanted everyone who was playing a horse to do so naked. In the opening scene of the play, I was a horse. It was a duologue between a policeman and a trainer, both of them on horseback. I was underneath the trainer, the police horse was played by the wonderful Chris Jarman. We were both in the third year of training at one of the world’s most prestigious drama schools. He turned out to be quite the star. Google him now.
Go on, I’ll wait.
Right, as you will have now found out. Chris Jarman is a beautiful, successful and rather large black man. He makes his money singing the hell out of musical numbers in shows like ‘Sister Act’ and ‘Book of Mormon’ on the West End stage. He recently appeared opposite Lenny Henry in the National Theatre’s Comedy of Errors. He is one of the most generous and talented actors around and I always enjoyed working with him on stage.
I thought it would be a good idea to appear alongside him in that performance. We’d steal the show with our hilarious yet nerveless impressions of equine beasts. It would be a triumph. But as I stood there on opening night, looking across the stage into the opposite wings at Chris, as he was, gloriously naked, ready for his entrance; I stared at his appendage, swinging like a baby’s arm between his legs and thought, maybe this isn’t such a good idea. People might start to compare. I was right. A witty colleague jumped on the chance presented in the pub post performance. “Pint?” he asked of Chris, stood alongside me in the bar. Jarman nodded thankfully. Our friend turned to me with a unmistakable sparkle in his eyes. “Just a little one Sam?” The place erupted.
The memory of being naked and regretting it came back to me this weekend whilst watching the Aviva Premiership. Round 20 served up some truly sumptuous rugby. But, an instance in the game between Leicester and London Welsh, is my moment of the season.
I’ve never really understood pitch invaders. I’ve grown up feeling any sporting arena is sacred. You have to earn your right to be out there, through years of pain and practice. Plus there’s the selfishness of disrupting the action. Lots of people have paid to watch a sporting contest and there you are interrupting everything, just for your own personal thrill. So, to venture on to any sporting venue naked is beyond comprehension. I get the exhibitionism of it, despite never wanting to partake again myself, but streaking, for me, is a complete and utter waste of time.
To run naked on to a Premiership Rugby field takes a special sort of idiocy. Apprehension by the stewards is nigh on inevitable for the streaker; if you do it at the tennis, cricket, athletics or even football, that’s all you are trying to avoid. Enter the rugby arena and there are thirty players plus subs all versed in the art of bringing the man down, some more forcefully than others.
Subsequent to this weekend’s action, one decision for any future rugby streaker has to be, is Chris Hala’ufia on the field? The unclothed sprinter, who on Saturday afternoon had decided, in his no doubt inebriated wisdom, that Welford Road should be his track, hadn’t taken the former London Irish and Harlequins back rower into consideration. The Tonga international, whose hard hitting on the field is somewhat legendary, took great delight in lining up the ‘tackle’ of the onrushing nude. Our birthday suit infiltrator met the full force of the London Welsh number eight.
And that is why, despite whatever glory and pictorial splendour our great sport will produce, this will remain one of my favourite rugby pictures ever. Amen.