Guinness has launched a rugby-inspired campaign fronted by two former national players – Gareth Thomas from Wales and South Africa’s Ashwin Willemse.

The push, which builds on the brew’s 40-year link with the sport, comprises two ads showing stories of how the players’ teammates were there for them when they needed them the most.

“Never Alone” tells the story of how the gay former Welsh captain’s greatest fear wasn’t the opposition he faced on the pitch, but the fear of rejection because of his sexuality. “The Right Path” shows how Willemse “defied his circumstance” by becoming a rugby player rather than taking the path dictated to him by a notorious Cape Town gang.

The ads had been designed to celebrate the integrity and character in the world of rugby rather than focusing on the physical attributes of rugby players, said Nick Britton, marketing manager for Guinness Western Europe.

“The courage Gareth and Ashwin both showed, and the incredible empathy and support they received from their teams, are remarkable stories that we are proud to celebrate,”  he said.

Ahead of the Rugby World Cup, which kicks off on 18 September, Guinness is hoping to further drive its association with the sport with a range of limited edition collectable glassware.