For “puce” read “puke”: mess with tradition at your peril

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    The bipolar Wallabies were due for a big performance against England and they duly delivered, in accordance with the inconsistent level of performance which has marked the Deans era.

    As encouraging as this result is, enthusiasm is tempered for two reasons – one being that recent good efforts tend to be followed up by poor ones, and therefore many supporters are reluctant to shout too loud too soon that the current Wallabies are the real deal.

    The second reason being that the England rugby team, or rather the RFU, handed the Wallabies a significant head start before a ball had even been kicked, by ignoring tradition and sending their team out in a ridiculous looking playing strip.

    Everything about this cries out ‘wrong, wrong, wrong,’ yet any alarm bells which may have rang out at RFU Twickenham headquarters were seemingly drowned out by clinking gin and tonic glasses and singing cash registers when this strip was first used against Argentina last year, and again on the weekend.

    The RFU are already, by some distance, the wealthiest administrative body in world rugby which, to the layman supporter, suggests they don’t need to sell their soul for a few measly pieces of silver. This unfortunately underestimates the sheer power of greed, which is surely the sole motivation behind this strip.

    Not that they are admitting it – they could acknowledge what we all know, that at 90 pounds per playing jumper sold, this decision stands to benefit Nike and the RFU considerably and leave it at that. But instead we get spun the line that the colour chosen is ‘Regal Purple’ and has some link to traditional English royalty.

    Links to English royalty? Really? Like finally admitting that Will Carling was shagging Princess Di on the sly? Or Prince Harry would be a terror on the turps with Mike Tindall, baring arse cheeks, tossing a few dwarves and throwing in a few Nazi salutes for good measure.

    In reality, the official colour is puce, a French word meaning ‘flea’, so named because back in the days when French beds were seemingly infested by fleas, Pierre would roll off the top of Antoinette, the nights’ conjugal duties all done and dusted, and squash a few of the little buggers – the dead fleas leaving colour spots on the white sheet that, even after washing, would be the colour of… well the colour of this English rugby jersey.

    How proud and motivated would that make an English rugby player feel, slipping on that playing strip, coloured the blood of French fleas?

    Many Test players of long standing speak about the buzz that comes before a game, on entering the changing room, eyeing up their jersey, and reflecting in what that means to them. That they carry a legacy for all players before them, for their country’s supporters, that they are considered worthy enough to be selected for the national team.

    Indeed Richie McCaw, in his excellent book, explains how he believes each generation has the responsibility to continue the tradition and honour the black jersey and this is a major factor in the continuing All Black success.

    I don’t contend for a second that every missed tackle or poor kick from an Englishman can be put down to them being embarrassed or demotivated by the strip. Or that their scrum somehow found a way to make the Wallabies scrum look world class because of it.

    But I’ve got no doubt that it would be short odds on the initial reaction of the English players, upon being informed about the new strip, simply being “WTF?” When it should have been, “how good is this, how proud do I feel? White, red rose, 141 years of pure history…”

    Word is that England will appear this week against the All Blacks in… well, black of course! Except that it isn’t black, it’s officially “Anthracite” a kind of dark grey. Which the RFU may well spin as to signify the link to their shit weather, but in reality provides the dual advantage of providing yet another merchandising option, and forcing the All Blacks into a change strip themselves.

    All utterly ridiculous and if, as has been suggested, the NZRFU has acceded to this request without protest, then they are equally culpable.

    It is 2012 and survival and growth in professional sport depends on sponsorship dollars. But clubs and national bodies must also be careful not to erode the tribalism and traditions which underpin their very being.

    We are not talking here about Super Rugby sides adopting various colourful strips which are perhaps more indicative of modern times. These are, after all, ‘franchises’ with very little real history behind them, as opposed to national rugby sides.

    Collingwood AFL President Eddie McGuire has it right when he proclaims that the Collingwood jumper is not for sale – at any price. Carlton are another proud AFL foundation club with a similar history, but the day they shelved their traditional navy blue and wore a horrible, sickly, M and M blue, all in the name of honouring a sponsorship deal, their club lost a little something of what made them special in the first place.

    And so their players, just like England’s – even if they didn’t admit it publicly – would have felt, at worst, fools or, at best, somewhat emasculated. Certainly something less than what they should.

    And with the margin between winning and losing at this level being so slight, it seems crazy to concede any advantage over something as preventable as this.

    To the Wallabies, congratulations. To the RFU, you got everything you deserved.

    Geoff Parkes
    Geoff Parkes

    Geoff is a Melbourne-based sports fanatic and writer who started contributing to The Roar in 2012 under the pen name Allanthus. His first book, A World in Union Conflict; The Global Battle For Rugby Supremacy, was released in December 2017 to critical acclaim. For details on the book visit Meanwhile, his twin goals of achieving a single figure golf handicap and owning a fast racehorse remain tantalisingly out of reach.

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    The Crowd Says (32)

    • November 20th 2012 @ 4:28am
      abnutta said | November 20th 2012 @ 4:28am | ! Report

      That is a strange one. If England decides to wear a dark strip then as far as I’m aware the All blacks have no choice but to wear their change strip due to Irb regs requiring the away team to change.

      That in itself goes against the long held tradition of the host union playing in a change strip. Eg Nz wearing white when hosting Scotland and vice versa.

      What makes this all the more curious is both Ireland and Scotland wearing change strips as host unions last week.

      And btw. I’m pretty sure it’s Canterbury and not Nike who provide the England strip nowadays. They also own the kooga brand of the wallabies I think.

      • November 20th 2012 @ 6:38am
        mania said | November 20th 2012 @ 6:38am | ! Report

        abnutta – i think kooga is reebok
        but isnt it odd that the travelling team has to wear the reverse strip? you’d think that the home team would have to, to save the travelling team from hauling extra luggage.
        this england top is majorly ugly…but there’ve been worse eg the AB’s grey tops

      • Columnist

        November 20th 2012 @ 6:58am
        Geoff Parkes said | November 20th 2012 @ 6:58am | ! Report

        Thanks abnutta, you’re correct, Nike last year, now Canterbury until 2015.

      • Roar Guru

        November 20th 2012 @ 12:54pm
        sheek said | November 20th 2012 @ 12:54pm | ! Report


        Rubbish! It’s about time organisations & fans stood up to this crap.

        England’s primary uniform is white & NZ’s is black.

        To have England play in grey & force NZ to play in white is morally reprehensible.

        Any organisation that puts making money ahead of tradition deserves to be pillioried.

        This obscene fascination with alternate uniforms is getting out of hand & someone, somewhere needs to find the moral integrity & leadership to stop this crap!

      • Roar Guru

        November 20th 2012 @ 1:18pm
        abnutta said | November 20th 2012 @ 1:18pm | ! Report

        I find it curious that the IRB decided to enshrine it into law that the away team must acquiesce. So we can blame the IRB for this departure from traditional practice of the home union wearing a change strip if there was a clash.

        I suspect it was an attempt by the IRB to bring itself into line with the association football propensity for “away” strips.

        PS. Kooga and Canterbury are both brands of the JD Sports group, and have no known association with reebok.

    • November 20th 2012 @ 5:57am
      Justin2 said | November 20th 2012 @ 5:57am | ! Report

      Sounds like its a farce. Home teams should wear their proper jersey, end of story, if the change creates what may come about this weekend.

    • Roar Guru

      November 20th 2012 @ 7:12am
      Argyle said | November 20th 2012 @ 7:12am | ! Report

      Mate, a wonderful read. Looking forward to your next.

    • Roar Guru

      November 20th 2012 @ 9:46am
      Dasher said | November 20th 2012 @ 9:46am | ! Report

      This reminds me of another Roar article I read a few years back about Super Rugby messing with the traditional colours/designs of the each state’s jersey for the sponsors’ sake. Talked about how WA should be yellow/black, Vic navy with a white V etc etc, although it conceded NSW, QLD and ACT got it about right. Was an interesting read.

    • November 20th 2012 @ 10:04am
      The Battered Slav said | November 20th 2012 @ 10:04am | ! Report

      Yep, almost as ridiculous as the Wallabies canary yellow in place of gold, but not quite.

      • Roar Guru

        November 20th 2012 @ 10:56am
        Argyle said | November 20th 2012 @ 10:56am | ! Report

        I would say that English jumper and our 1997/98 Pizza slice jumper are up there with worst ever on display.

        • Roar Guru

          November 20th 2012 @ 11:32am
          HardcorePrawn said | November 20th 2012 @ 11:32am | ! Report

          I think the Raspberry Ripple design of the 2007 World Cup (worn by both England, and in a blue twist, by France too) is a worse design than this current England strip. Although I really don’t like this shirt’s resemblance to Arsenal’s strip of a few years ago, it’s sure to lose the RFU some sales as a result.

          I’m of the (old-fashioned) opinion that an away strip MUST clash with the home one – and haven’t we had some spectacularly bad ones that don’t: Scotland and NZ have, in the past, worn greys that closely resembled their home strip after a hot wash – and the purple/puce shirt does at least fulfill that criteria. It also won’t offend any other nations in the same way that England’s black design of 2011 did.

          In an ideal world though, I reckon all nations should stick to both a home and away colour (white and red for England, blue and white for France etc) and dispense with these weird experiments, but when a bit of cash can be made there will always be some tinkering.

          • Columnist

            November 20th 2012 @ 12:19pm
            Geoff Parkes said | November 20th 2012 @ 12:19pm | ! Report

            Hardcore, you’re right, where there is a whiff of an extra dollar to be made…. although as Sheek pointed out yesterday, it’s hard to understand how the Wallabies evolved into a pumpkin orange jersey without that even being a sponsorship issue.

            It doesn’t really matter whether someone likes the Puce or the Anthracite or a striped version or whatever. It’s all subjective opinion. The point is that any of these versions is not the REAL strip, the one which the fabric of the club/province/national team is built on. Messing around with this cheapens the experience for the players and supporters alike.

        • November 20th 2012 @ 3:10pm
          The Battered Slav said | November 20th 2012 @ 3:10pm | ! Report

          Yeah Uncle the pizza slice was a shocker…

          I really like the idea of traditional jerseys.

          National teams/clubs seemed to follow the same conventions as schools, in that the First XV generally play in solid colours, whereas the lower grade teams play in hoops, quarters or stripes.

          National Teams have historically played in solid colours, except for some notable exceptions such as Argentina and Japan, who have always played in the more club style hoops.

          I like the traditional patterns of jerseys, and really respect the minimal tinkering countries like NZ and RSA do to their national first XV jerseys, which have been the same for over 100 years.

          I just wish to Wallabies could play in a solid gold jumper with a dark green collar and number.

          • Roar Guru

            November 20th 2012 @ 3:59pm
            Argyle said | November 20th 2012 @ 3:59pm | ! Report

            Mate there is a Wallaby jumper Circa 1938 that is a cracker. I think Lordy and Sheek are the only two to have actually seen them in play – I digress – I cant find it on Google but its white but with green and gold tubing around chest and arms. With Green shorts and green & gold hooped socks.

            Other than that the ADDIDAS Tri Strip was and remain a favourite.

    • November 20th 2012 @ 12:47pm
      AndyS said | November 20th 2012 @ 12:47pm | ! Report

      Got to say, England can dress in lime green stripes with sequined polka dots for all I care…none of my business. Best comment I’ve heard though – if they are going to dress up as beetroots, they can’t afford to play like turnips.

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