From The Vaults

19 June 2023
Setting Fire to the Mud

In 2003 the Rugby Football Union (RFU) utilised the stage and screen actor Peter O'Toole to front a campaign called 'Rugby Making an Impact'. In the short video (below) O'Toole is dressed as a hermit-wizard in a scrum cap and is imploring a small boy to play rugby.

'Do you have the eyes of a hawk?' he enquires, 'Can you forge a will of iron to make a body of steel to make your mark?' Eventually, after being briefly imprisoned in stone and smashing a hammer into a mountaintop, the boy responds to O'Toole's command to 'set the mud on fire' by scoring a try, while O'Toole is transformed into an excitable grandad, shouting his support from the sidelines.

'Rugby Making an Impact' was a co-initiative with the RFU's then insurance provider Zurich, aimed at inspiring grassroots participation within the game. Later in the film, Jason Leonard and Clive Woodward speak about the importance of developing the next generation of English rugby heroes.

Although the campaign was a success, the production was one of O'Toole's more modest works. The late actor was nominated for Academy Awards eight times, perhaps most famously as the leading role in the 1962 film Lawrence of Arabia.

O'Toole was a genuine rugby fan though. He played scratch rugby league matches as a child growing up in Leeds and, in later life, is known to have attended Five Nations matches at Twickenham with his friends and fellow stage actors Richard Harris and Richard Burton.

He received his eighth and final Academy Award nomination for his portrayal of Maurice Russell in the 2006 film Venus. He passed away in 2013 at the age of 81.