Last year Guinness produced a series of stunning adverts that struck a chord with rugby fans the world over. They’ve nailed it again, this time featuring Gareth Thomas and his personal struggle with his sexuality, and former Springbok winger Ashwin Willemse, who was pulled away from a life of gang violence and crime thanks to rugby.
The campaign focuses on stories of strength of character and integrity in the world of rugby, emphasising the amazing support and empathy they received to help them come through difficult moments in their lives – Gareth when he came out to his teammates, and Ashwin when he turned his back on the notorious Cape Town gang that he belonged to.
Rather than focus on physical attributes of what makes a rugby player, this campaign looks to inner qualities like courage, integrity and resilience.
The films were directed by John Hillcoat, internationally-renowned director of Lawless and The Road, with exclusive music by Nick Cave in the Willemse film.
Guinness has also released two short documentaries, which explore their stories in more detail. These short films shine a light on the events covered in the adverts, providing additional insight from the subjects on the challenging circumstances they faced, and the incredible support they received from their teammates. You can view those on the next page (or below)
Ashwin Willemse – The Right Path
The longer mini-documentaries:
Gareth Thomas – Never Alone (full)
Never Alone tells the story of how the former Wales captain’s greatest fear wasn’t the opposition he faced on the pitch, but the fear of rejection from everything he had known, because of his sexuality.
The film celebrates the courage of Gareth, and most importantly, the empathy shown by his teammates when he came out, showing that even when he felt he was on his own and at his lowest point, he was always part of a team.
“I went into battle on the pitch every week, but the battle I was going through personally was ten times worse because I was keeping a secret from the team,” said former Wales captain, Thomas.
“That team becomes like your family – the closest thing to you, and to hide that secret from the team was horrible. The support that my teammates showed when I came out was truly remarkable – my sexuality didn’t matter to them at all.
“I am very proud about my rugby playing career, but I am more proud of the fact that my teammates supported me to play rugby being Gareth Thomas, being the person that I am, 100%.”
Ashwin Willemse – The Right Path (full)
Ashwin Willemse: The Right Path tells the story of a man who had a choice of two paths when growing up. One dictated to him by a notorious Cape Town gang, and one he would need to make for himself, to follow a path to the pinnacle of rugby.
The film celebrates the choice that he made to defy his circumstances, and with the encouragement of those around him, he became who he really wanted to be, eventually winning 19 caps for his country and becoming a World Champion in 2007.
“Me becoming a Springbok was something I never perceived to be possible growing up. I made some wrong decisions when I was younger and fell in with the wrong crowd. But even during that time I always had the gift of rugby,” explained Willemse.
“Without rugby, and the incredible support of my teammates and family, I most probably would have ended up either in prison or in a coffin six foot under. What they taught me is that we can defy the odds, we can be better than we ever imagined, all you need in life is just a small little light that can give you a new direction, and that for me was rugby.”