Operation Rock the Rose
October 14, 2011
Mike Tindall has been at the centre of the RFU's rebranding campaign © Getty Images
In an announcement that has shaken world rugby to the core the Rugby Football Union has revealed that England's dismal performance off the field during the 2011 World Cup was part of an ongoing rebranding and marketing project.
In an attempt to tap into a 'previously undervalued demographic core', the English team had been following a meticulously plotted 'leftfield behavioural plan' designed to attract members of the public who enjoy 'rock and roll' lifestyles but currently do not follow rugby union.
The RFU were forced to reveal their hand after the final stage of the campaign backfired and lead to a serious police investigation and worldwide press condemnation. Manu Tuilagi's jump from a ferry in Auckland was one of the final phases of what was labelled 'Operation Rock the Rose'.
It was thought the centre's outlandish behaviour would appeal to males between fifteen and twenty-one who 'aspire to fame and success but wish to maintain a feeling of rebelliousness' and who desire to 'project an exciting and somewhat maverick personality onto their peers and elders'.
"Whilst we may have made some errors in judgement," said Caroline Bills, head of RFU Marketing, "We only wished to widen the appeal of the game in England. It is important people from all members of society buy into the brand that is Team England.
"A bigger fan base makes English rugby stronger, increases revenue and makes the game more appealing to media partners and corporate sponsors. We are in a recession and we won't apologise for trying to rebrand Team England and reach new markets. We will not sit back here and let the game in England fall behind."
The RFU admitted the recent riots in London and across England had 'opened' their eyes to a whole new potential rugby market and immediately called in image consultants to devise a way to appeal to the disaffected youth of England.
"Look, the middle classes and so called toffs are already guaranteed to follow rugby union," said Bills. "That's a cast iron guarantee. But the youth on the streets talk only football. Rooney, Tevez and Gerrard are the names you hear when you get down with the young people.
"Nobody on the street is talking about Flood, Moody or Wilkinson. The RFU has to try and reach out to the disenfranchised of England and grow the game. It's all very well sitting back and criticising us in the media but we have to produce results and move England forward."
Operation Rock the Rose began subtly at Heathrow Airport when rather than flying to New Zealand in smartly tailored suits like other nations, they chose to fly in cheap looking t-shirts akin to something worn on a stag weekend. The RFU revealed this was to make England seem like 'regular lads' and not 'ruggar buggars'.
The next phase of the marketing strategy was to give England some genuine 'rock and roll credentials'. It now transpires that the infamous Mike Tindall with mysterious blonde/dwarfs/nightclub incident was part of the RFU's tactic to 'deglamourise' the English team.
"Our market research indicated that Mike Tindall's association by marriage with the Royal Family was reinforcing negative stereotypes amongst many in England that English rugby was a game solely for aristocrats and private school types," stated Bills. "We needed to 'humanise' Mike and give him a bad boy image. What could be more rock and roll than pretty blondes, dwarves, beer and partying?"
The next stage of Operation Rock the Rose was the hugely contentious ball tampering scandal in the Georgian match in which England's management substituted inferior balls for better ones for Jonny Wilkinson to kick conversions with. The scandal brought the wrath of tournament organisers and led to match bans for two of England's management. However, the RFU admitted the original idea was far more outlandish.
"In our original brainstorming session Jonny was going to openly change balls in front of the ref," said Bills. "After England's first try we wanted Jonny to produce a glittery silver ball, akin to a disco ball, to kick with. He was then to produce a pair of designer sunglasses from his pocket, look at the referee and say 'my kicking is so damn cool I gotta wear shades'. But sadly, Jonny refused to buy into the suggestion. Shame, our research indicated it would have brought world wide publicity and much kudos from the angry urban youth demographic."
Bills admits not all of the English management and players fully bought into Operation Rock the Rose. Whilst Martin Johnson tolerated certain off the field aspects of the plan, he refused to allow the marketing team to influence on field play.
"We wanted England to play it rockstar style" sighed a disappointed Bills. "We wanted banana kicks, behind the back passes, up the jumper tricks, triple scissor moves, back-heeled chip aheads…all the cool stuff. It would have done more than anything we could do off the field to enhance our rock and roll image. The problem was however cool we looked off the field we were taking backward steps on it.
"Really, even if we had lost a game or two because of playing in the rock and roll style, would we be any worse off now than we already are? We went out playing dire, unimaginative stuff and won no friends at all and certainly no silverware. We could have rocked the world and won millions over. It's hugely frustrating."
Bills confessed Johnson's refusal to play rockstar rugby led to increasingly risky off field antics to try and compensate. This was why Lewis Moody, England's captain, openly flouted sponsorship rules by wearing a branded gumshield. This was designed to appeal to youngsters who like to 'reject authority'.
Bills refused to be drawn on whether Operation Rock the Rose will continue during the Six Nations or if it will be scrapped.
The RFU did clarify, however, that the shocking 'hotel incident' in Dunedin involving Dylan Hartley, James Haskell and Chris Ashton was not part of Operation Rock the Rose.
"Not even we would sink that low," stated Bills.
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
The East Terrace (www.theeastterrace.com) offers an offside view of life in the rugby world
Firdose Moonda looks at the moves towards greater integration within South African rugby ... and what the future holds
Martin Gillingham looks ahead to what he believes is the most remarkable ever climax to the league phase of the Top 14
With just two rounds left in the regular season, we look at the prospects of the teams taking part in the Championship play-offs
Joe Simpson talks to Charlie Morgan about loss, Wasps and being England's game-breaker