Perhaps it's a backlash to the public fall from grace of Gilette-sponsored sportsmen. Or maybe it's because Willie Apiata looked so staunch. Whatever the reason, beards are all the rage for Super 14 players. Winston Aldworth and Duncan Gillies look at the best of the bushy ones.

1. W.G. Grace

Any discussion of beards and sport begins and ends on the chin of W.G. Grace. The furry Englishman scored his nation's first test century against Australia and is credited with inventing modern batting. He can also take a bow for inventing sledging, or as Grace and his chums called it, "chaff". A wily fox and an obstinate cheat, the doctor had a grasping reputation where money was concerned and did much to develop cricket's unique sense of gamesmanship.

One of the most famous men in Victorian society, Grace argued every toss and gave no quarter as a batsman or allrounder. His behaviour on an 1874 tour of Australia did much to set in place the old adage that men with beards are not to be trusted.

"We in Australia did not take kindly to W.G.," wrote one newspaper. "For so big a man, he is surprisingly tenacious on very small points. We thought him too apt to wrangle in the spirit of a duo-decimo lawyer over small points of the game."

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Even his mates painted a grim picture. His long-term friend Lord Harris said the great allrounder "approached cricket as if he were fighting a small war".

But what a beard.

2. Carl Hayman

Don't be fooled by Ma'a Nonu's recent dabblings in the realm of chin fluff. With an eye for fashion that owed more to Billy Bush than Bruno, Carl Hayman grew a beard that could double as a back-paddock shelter belt out beyond Opunake. And this was all back in the days when the average Super 14 player had a mandible as bare as the Highlanders' trophy cabinet.

A prop should have a beard - and the thicker, the better (the beard, that is, not the prop).

Big shoulders, a thick neck and a straight back are all well and good, but Hayman's piratical leer as the Wallaby frontrow trembled before him was one of the heartening sights of the Noughties for All Black fans.

Please, Carl, come home.

3. Ma'a Nonu

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Admittedly, Nonu's contribution to the canon of chin horticulture pales into insignificance alongside his sometime All Black teammate Carl Hayman. In fact the entire Nonu beard would register as little more than a goatie tucked on to the Taranaki granite of Hayman's jaw. The dreadlocks would be Hayman sideburns.

But Nonu's facial growth says much about the recent rise of facial follicles in sport. Plenty of men have worn eyeliner before - generally Wellingtonians, transvestites and tiresome musicians - but there are very few outside of the Sydney Mardi Gras to combine eyeliner, a full beard and San Francisco-styled coloured beads in the hair.

Ma'a, take a bow.

4. Dan Vettori

From cherubic Hamiltonian choir boy who wouldn't hurt a fly, to wizened hard-nut with a mug that could adorn a "wanted" poster (albeit a wanted poster for a rogue IT guy), Dan Vettori's rise in the beardy stakes has run concurrently with his influence over our summer game.

Perhaps when the Black Caps unveil a proper head coach (no disrespect, Paddy) and discover a bowling allrounder, the skipper will tuck back down to No7 in the batting order and find time to have a proper post-match shave.

In the meantime, the Vettori beard is testament to how much stauncher a good bit of facial growth can make a man look.

5. Sebastien Chabal

Being French, Chabal is tres cosmopolitan, so it's little surprise to find that his beard has its own Facebook group.

More than anyone else on this list, Chabal has a beard that attracts women. His caveman visage has been credited with bringing a wave of French female fans - les Chabalistes - to rugby.

Nicola Copping, a writer for the Times of London, went all gaga with a breathless account of the Frenchman's macho appeal. "Chabal's silent assault on the rugby pitch equates with the mythical man beast chasing deer on the plain, a man that rouses those hidden (until now) primeval urges that woman evidently possess just as much as men." Ahem.

6. Mohammad Yousuf

Yousuf Youhana, a Christian by birth, became the first non-Muslim to represent Pakistan at cricket. So when he converted to Islam - changing his name to Mohammad Yousuf along the way - it was a return to business as usual for the team's theological chats. These days he sports the kind of beard that could delay transatlantic flights.

Chin-to-chin, Yousuf's big bushy beard is nearly a match for even the great W. G. Grace's whiskers. He also does a great job of keeping it tidy. Regardless, it's comfortably the most impressive in world cricket today, with South Africa's Hashim Amla an honourable second.

7. Socrates

Socrates stands out in the world of soccer, even among those other great Brazilians known by one name.

While the samba nation is better known on the pitch for speed, agility and fancy footwork, Socrates came across as a sporting philosopher. He had the beard, the name and the education. As well as being a medical doctor, he holds a doctorate degree in philosophy.

Capped 60 times for Brazil between May 1979 and June 1986, he captained his side in their 4-0 win over New Zealand at the 1982 World Cup in Spain.

Rarely did he appear to raise a sweat. Nor did he seem to ever be short of breath - surprising, as he was a chain smoker.

So while Pele set the standard for all players who followed, it was Socrates, real name Socrates Brasileiro Sampaio de Souza Vieira de Oliveira, who made it all look so easy.

8. Ruben Wiki

The Warriors bosses insisted the players' beards in 2008 were not, as the fans believed, a tribute to the retiring Ruben Wiki. Wiki's jawline had furred up as his final days in top-flight league passed. The fans loved it.

Fullback Wade McKinnon explained his beard away with a cheery nod to his bogan side: "I just like ZZ Top."

Micheal Luck bizarrely claimed his was a homage to a serial killer: "I said it was a tribute to Charles Manson, I really admire what he's doing. Some people got a bit upset at that."

Which, of course, is all a load of nonsense. Intentionally or otherwise, the beards were a tribute to Wiki, the soul of the team.

In his final season, Wiki became only the 10th player and the first New Zealander to pass the mark of 300 first-grade matches in the NRL. He also totted up 55 test matches for New Zealand between 1994 and 2006, the most test caps for any league player in the world.

9. Heidi Krieger

Here's one for Paul Henry.

When 13-year-old Heidi Krieger turned up for shot put training in East Germany back in 1979 the coaches spotted her potential and gave her some special blue pills.

"Vitamins," they said. And she went on to international athletic success.

Two decades later, Heidi was a he.

The state-run doping programme left Heidi with more male characteristics than female - including a daily shave. By 1997, she'd had enough. "I had no sympathy with my body, it had changed beyond all recognition," he says. "It was as though they had killed Heidi. Becoming Andreas was the next logical step."

10. Louis Moolman

It might surprise youngsters today, but South Africa was once a somewhat less cosmopolitan society. Back then men like Louis Moolman roamed about the place freely, shooting animals, playing rugby and writing the law.

Moolman, an unreconstructed second-rower of a pre-medieval bent, glared out at the New Zealand public from behind the barbed wire back in 1981. If he had a modern inheritor it was probably Geo Cronje (right), a Bokke lock from 2003.

True beard admirers might salute Victor Matfield's lineout work, but would never mistake his neatly trimmed chops for the real deal.