WHEN ONE THINKS of a Land Rover Defender, the sport of rugby might not immediately spring to mind. But after this year’s Rugby World Cup in France, that might change. When diving into the history of Defender and rugby—a partnership that spans over 20 years—it’s hard not to distinguish the similarities between the two entities: brutish strength, bold design, resilience, and a knack for achieving—or embracing—the impossible.
And if you were in Paris to enjoy the revelry and spectacle of the 2023 Rugby World Cup, it would have been hard to miss the connection between the two entities; the roads Defender scaled, rugby followed in tow. It’s perhaps why the Defender brand will continue to amplify the messages of positivity that unfolds within rugby, on and off the pitch—from grassroots to professional levels, Defender wants to help to change the face of the sport for good.
“It’s no secret that rugby is a natural partner for Defender,” says Mark Cameron, Managing Director, Defender & Discovery. “The spirit of adventure and determination required to be successful in rugby at any level really resonates with us as a brand.”
Most recently in Paris, Defender unveiled its ‘Trailblazers’ campaign, a fantastic initiative that heroes the incredible individuals representing the very best of the sport from all different levels, and all different cultures across the globe. It’s just one example of what this partnership means to the Defender brand, and how, in the future to come, rugby will continue to prosper hand in hand with Land Rover Defender.
As the dust settles from the 2023 Rugby World Cup in Paris, Esquire had the chance to speak with Mark Cameron on this special relationship spanning two decades and how, at the centre of its transformational journey to become the ultimate creators of modern luxury, culture is helping shape a clear identity for the Defender brand.
Esquire: Mark, the partnership between Land Rover (Defender) and rugby spans 20 years. I’d love to know how the initial conversation came about relating to aligning with rugby, and what’s been the secret to such a long and successful partnership between the two brands?
Mark Cameron: Our recent activities around Rugby World Cup France 2023 are the latest in a series of collaborations that stretch back over decades – encompassing everything from grassroots clubs to national and international teams – and we’re proud to be associated with a sport with such closely aligned values. In Australia we have been proud partners of the Wallabies for six years and also supported the British and Irish Lions when they toured Australia in 2013.
Esquire: What makes the sport of rugby and Defender such a perfect fit? What are the shared values between the two entities?
MC: As a sport, rugby is about teamwork, respect, discipline and sportsmanship – values that are important in any walk of life. They’re all underpinned by a determination, inner strength and resilience that are intrinsic to both rugby and Defender. Like players at any level, Defender is always pushing the boundaries to achieve exceptional things – something we celebrated this year with the Defender Trailblazers, which shone a spotlight on the people creating positive change today, to create a better tomorrow.
Esquire: On Defender and its Trailblazers, can you talk a bit about this year’s special Rugby World Cup campaign and how this was conceived? Will this campaign continue to run in years to come?
MC: We wanted to celebrate those individuals who embrace the impossible with their incredible strength and unstoppable spirit. Defender Trailblazers are modern-day heroes who are changing the face of rugby, representing the very best of the sport while also inspiring others.
Every Defender Trailblazer has demonstrated immense courage, inner strength and determination in the face of adversity and is a force for positive change not just in rugby but within wider society. At the launch of Rugby World Cup France 2023, they were immortalised in unique steel sculptures, created using 3D scanning technology and reclaimed material from Defender production processes.
Defender will always champion and celebrate game changing individuals who inspire others to do great things.
Esquire: And how did the brand go about choosing their trailblazers/heroes for this year’s Rugby World Cup campaign?
MC: The six Defender Trailblazers are a diverse group of exceptional individuals who are changing the face of rugby and represent the very best of the sport. They were chosen because they are inspirational individuals, who are embracing the impossible, while encouraging others to do the same.
We undertook extensive global research within the rugby world to find individuals who push the boundaries across different areas of the sport, and the wider rugby community. Our Trailblazers were chosen for the way they were representing, inspiring and facilitating players and communities in areas that are under-represented, or who need support or encouragement to engage with the sport. Those who are challenging rugby stereotypes and making a tangible difference in their own communities stood out, from grassroots to professional levels, across a broad spectrum of backgrounds, ethnicities, cultures, genders and ages.
For reference, the six Trailblazers include: Ryuichi Nagayama, a 90-year-old practising doctor who is the oldest active member of Fuwaku Rugby Club; Cyril Leroy, founder of Les Gaillards, the first LGBT+ friendly rugby club in France; Jacob Pickering, 14, who was born without his left forearm but hasn’t let this stop him playing the game he loves; Zainab Alema, a female Muslim rugby player who runs Muslimah Rugby, a community for Muslim women in rugby; Kylie Grimes, who, after suffering a life-changing spinal injury, started playing for the London Wheelchair Rugby Club and has since competed at the 2012 Paralympics; and Irtiqa Ayoub, the 28-year-old from India who is introducing rugby to women in Kashmir and Muslims in the wider community.
Esquire: Defender led a bold and exciting campaign at this year’s Rugby World Cup, underpinned by the statement: Embrace the Impossible. Can you explain this statement in line with the partnership between Defender and rugby?
MC: Defender’s brand purpose is to embrace the impossible. In relation to rugby, it is all about celebrating those who demonstrate the same outlook and encourage others to do the same. Those who associate with Defender see the world as full of potential, with more to achieve, while rugby – a global game – provides the foundation to inspire and reach a diverse and inclusive audience. Defender champions those who push for positive change, do the exceptional and ultimately, embrace the impossible.
Esquire: Broadly speaking, can you talk about the strategy behind Defender’s partnerships in different cultural avenues, not just rugby (and sport)?
MC: Defender celebrates and recognises people that create positive change today, to defend tomorrow. This goes beyond sport, and champions people who face challenges and adversity head on, stretch themselves and strive to achieve great things and embrace the impossible. Our support for rugby is just one example.
We recently worked with ground-breaking British music artist and actor, Kano – an artist who values authenticity and originality. Where appropriate, we are also keen to bring together our partnerships and people from different cultural avenues, which is why Kano headlined at our launch event for the Rugby World Cup 2023, which honoured inspirational players and people – including the Trailblazers. We will continue to align ourselves with brands, sports and individuals who share our values, to ensure we’re being true to ourselves and the clients with whom Defender resonates so strongly.
Esquire: How is culture shaping the Defender brand specifically, Mark?
MC: We need to be doing things that are relevant to, and that resonate with, our clients so culture is undoubtedly shaping the way we interact with them and how we tell our stories. We’ve been keen supporters of global rugby for decades and that hasn’t changed – what has changed is the way we bring that to life. For example, we’ve already referenced our Trailblazers at Rugby World Cup France 2023 as one element of our campaign, but Defender was also a key part of the fan experience on the ground in France during the tournament, where we engaged with thousands of visitors at the Official Rugby Village in central Paris.
Beyond rugby, music will be really important to the Defender brand. We’ve already worked with Kano and last summer a fleet of Defender plug-in electric hybrid models attended Glastonbury, in our role as official vehicle partner for the world’s greatest music festival. So, you’ll see Defender show up in places that will resonate with our clients. The Defender electric hybrid’s zero-emission all-terrain capability made it the perfect choice for Glastonbury, where charging with solar energy showed Defender’s commitment to going anywhere and making a difference.
In Australia, we recently launched the first Australian Defender House experience at SXSW Sydney 2023 festival, a creative festival where emerging tech, innovation, music converge with culture for unexpected discoveries. Defender owners and enthusiasts are known for their love of music and, like the best music, driving a Defender allows you to lose yourself in the moment. Defender House at SXSW Sydney delivered a range of bespoke sensory experiences for guests who were inspired through innovative collaborations with renowned artists such as talented ARIA award-winning singer-songwriter and rapper Tkay Maidza. Like the best music, Defender represents losing yourself in the experience and taking the road less travelled.