This weekend, a mostly green-clad team (with gold accents) will battle a predominantly gold-attired team (with green accents), but both South Africa and Australia have a long green history.
RobC and I turned into fashion writers to discuss this crucial angle of the rivalry.
Before ARU was founded in 1947, the Australian national team struck ad hoc deals between the rugby leaders of Queensland and New South Wales on the national strip. Thus, for a few decades, the Wallabies wore varieties of sky blue, maroon, and hooped hybrids of each.
By the 1930s, a dark green prototype for the Australians was debated.
A newspaper in Sydney reported alternative suggestions- an all gold jersey, a green-and-gold hooped jersey, and a green jersey with gold v-neck. This was prompted by concerns that a dark green jersey would be difficult to distinguish from the All Blacks’ strip in muddy games (which were common then). Also, Ireland and South Africa had settled on green jerseys. But dark green it became.
The Springboks came to their traditional colour by accident. In 1903, a British team toured the Cape, winning 11 of 22 games, a shock and an awakening for the British.
The South African national team wore white or just used the hosting home club’s jerseys, without a badge, but for the final Test at Newlands, decided to choose an official jersey. The South African skipper used a supply of dark green jerseys from the defunct Old Diocesan’s Club. It stuck.
On the Springboks’ 1906 tour to Britain, the London Daily Mail reported: “The team’s colours will be myrtle green jerseys with gold collar. They would wear dark blue shorts and dark blue stockings and the jersey would have been embroidered in mouse-coloured silk on the left breast a Springbok, a small African antelope.”
So, the Boks have clearly been a green-with-gold team for 110 years. When the Wallabies clashed with the Boks in 1933, Australia wore sky blue. In 1937 and 1956, Australia played in white against the Boks. In 1953, the Boks returned the favour, hosting the Wallabies in a white jersey with black shorts and green socks. This green jerseyed visitor and white home jersey plan is the same one Ireland and South Africa use.
Only in 1962 was gold chosen to be the predominant Wallaby jersey colour.
Thus, the history of the Wallaby jersey is complex: 1899-1904: sky blue in Sydney; maroon in Brisbane; 1905-1907: sky blue and maroon hoops; 1908-1928: sky blue, except for Brisbane Tests; 1929-1961: dark green except against South Africa; 1962-1976: gold; 1978-now: gold with green.
Even after Australia went gold, the variety has been prolific. Collars grew huge, then receded into mere tokens. Steadily, gold has beaten back green.
Spiro Zavos commented on the history of the Wallaby jersey in 2012, panning the brown lines of the 2007 vintage as being “intended to define the abs and muscles of the trim Wallabies but, in fact, looked like giving them a man-bra shape.”
Spiro rated that jersey as “the worst Wallaby jersey, even more disagreeable than the 1997 model that David Wilson attacked as “an SBS test pattern” and a “girl’s blouse.”
We think the change in the actual “goldness” of the base colour is the big issue. The Wallaby gold used to have a depth to it; as the chemical element Au does, courtesy of the molten core it sank to.
In pure form, gold is supposed to have a reddishness to it, not merely a brighter yellow.
Contrast that red-reflecting-gold of 1991 with today’s more yellow hue.
The Springboks, on the other hand, have a relatively constant version of green; the big issue for South Africa has been the battle between the Springbok emblem and the King Protea flower. Since 1992, South African rugby fans and politicians have fought a long, slow bout over the positioning of the beautiful flower and the gentle Springbok.
Especially given the ferocious reputation of South African forwards, it is surprising that a big predator is not their mascot. A rhinoceros or a lion or a crocodile or even an elephant might seem more fitting.
Also, gold is one of South Africa’s great claims to fame and a large reason for its early wealth.
However, South African rugby has definitely kept gold at bay. The gold collar and stylised remnants of the golf cuffs from a long-sleeved jersey live on in modern versions of the very green and not-so-gold. But changes have been slight. Look at any decade from 1910 and later and the elements are similar.
The only real changes came early, in the Bok socks: red stockings, then blue stockings with two white stripes, then dark blue socks with no stripes, and finally the green socks with two gold stripes took over and became the convention. Those stripes have grown smaller over time.
In 2009, the gold stripes on the socks even disappeared.
I asked proud Queensland and Australia fan RobC his thoughts. Here they are:
“Bring back the gold. The real gold. The use of a fake yellow is emblematic of the Wallabies’ failure to secure the Bledisloe or the Web Ellis for almost a decade and a half.
“While Bill Pulver, Michael Cheika, Stephen Larkham and company are sorting out the basics, the first thing the rest of us should do is go back to the Mark Ella-Garrick Morgan gold jersey. There weren’t too many things more frightening on the paddock than facing Garrick in gold.
“Let’s be honest. When was the last time you have seen any Wallaby wear a real suit of armour and breathe the confident air of invincibility?
“Even Quade Cooper, as he questioned Robbie Dean’s Wallaby environment used the term ‘yellow jumper.’ But it’s not just the Wallabies that’s at fault. Let’s look at cricket. In the famous one-day international underarm win over the Kiwis, the Australians did not wear real gold.”
“This enabled New Zealand Prime Minister Robert Muldoon to utter the infamous sore-loser comment: ‘It was an act of true cowardice and I consider it appropriate that the Australian team were wearing yellow.’”
After observing that New Zealand only tried grey uniforms once, with disastrous results, he closed with this rant:
“If you’re supposed to have gold in your uniform, then use it! It’s almost as bad as saying you’re going to field a number eight in a Test match, but then select an opensider. Or a non-jumping lock. Or a non-kicking fullback.
“We should be what we say we are: green and gold. Not green and yellow. Bring back the gold. We should win this weekend. But I’m not counting my yellow chicks before they’re hatched, as I fear the Africans will take a leaf out of the English playbook and lay yellow brick road over us.”
Jerseys are important. Gold jerseys matter.
Meanwhile, the Boks will try to use the same-old-same-old same-as-it-ever-was approach.