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Sunday Times STLive By CANDICE BAILEY, 2012-03-25

Oh, those flowing rugby locks

THEY have cascading curls, sleek cuts, blowaway fringes and shiny Afros. And, to maintain their flashy do's, they use leave-in conditioners, have scheduled trims and keep their hairbands on standby to prevent their pesky locks getting in the way.

These are no models - they are some of the brawny players featuring in this year's Super 15 rugby tournament . I t would seem they spend as much time in the salon as they do on the field.

Take, for instance, the bleached-blond head of Bulls centre Wynand Olivier, or Hurricanes centre Ma'a Nonu and his swinging dreads.

Then there are the curly mops of Cheetahs strongman Ashley Johnson, Reds loose forward Radike Samo and Waratahs hooker Tatafu Polota.

Unfortunately, their looks have not been met with universal applause by two of South Africa' s leading hairstylists, who gave most of them the thumbs-down, with one saying most of them looked like "Neanderthals".

But for someone like Sharks lock Ross Skeate, the wild hair is something he thinks is just "a bit more him" - even if it means constant mockery by his teammates.

Skeate said a fellow player recently discovered his leave-in conditioner and gave him "a bit of stress".

Said Skeate: "He could not wait to tell the rest of the team." This led to a lot of banter in the locker-room.

But Skeate took it all in his stride, saying: "I don't get offended. Boys will be boys."

When his hair gets in the way during training or a game, Skeate puts on a headband. He said he went to his hairdresser for trims every "now and again", but did not have any specific hair regime.

He said that it was his hairstylist, in fact, who suggested he use the leave-in conditioner, instead of a normal conditioner.

"But it's really not fancy. It's wash and wear."

Bulls loose forward Jacques Potgieter is another whose sleek strands have earned him as much attention as his play on the field.

He recalled that a woman approached him in a pub recently to ask if he had a hair-straightening iron she could borrow.

Potgieter said his mane was the work of a professional hairdresser.

He said he had been allowed to grow his hair only after leaving high school, because his father ordered him to sport a 1cm brush-cut.

When he's not home in Port Elizabeth, where his regular hairstylist is based, he has no special regime .

He brushed off remarks by Bulls teammates who told him to cut his hair, as rugby matches were not "modelling shows". Some have likened his look, especially when he grows his beard, to that of French rugby star Sébastien Chabal, known to fans around the world as the "Caveman".

Lions loose forward and captain Josh Strauss has shared that nickname, thanks to his shaggy beard, which he is said to have left untrimmed as a joke about keeping Johannesburg's hotties at bay when he moved there and his girlfriend had to stay behind in Cape Town.

Durban hairstylist Terry Scott, who counts former Springboks Cabous van der Westhuizen and James Small among former clients, said the age of the Neanderthal was long gone. He said most of the players in Super 15 rugby could do with serious cutting and styling .

"What's with all the beards? Are you trying to hide a weak jaw?" he asked.

He said of the bearded Strauss : " I believe there is a bit of history behind this look, but, and that's with a capital B, get rid of the beard, dude."

Johannesburg-based hairdresser Gary Rom, who has styled sports stars from Victor Matfield to cricketer Albie Morkel, as well as fashion designer David Tlale and model Claudia Henkel, said upkeep was important if players wanted their hair to look good.

He said while Afros - such as those sported by Johnson, Samo and Polota - might be "back with a bang", those stying their hair this way must be sure to use moisturisers and shine-enhancing finishing products.

"Curly hair absorbs light and tends to look dull, dry and lifeless at times," said Rom.

Scott thinks a haircut could do wonders for Polota and Johnson.

Rom said tall men such as Skeate looked good with the longer look, but "there is too much body on the sides".

He said it was important for sport stars to care about their looks.

"Hundreds of young boys and men look up to these sportsmen as trendsetters. Soccer players definitely set the hairstyling trends, and rugby players could follow suit."

The players don' t turn a hair at the criticism. As Potgieter said: "I am just a normal guy. I'm just a rugby player."

What do you think of rugby players sporting long hair? E-mail tellus@sundaytimes.co.za