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From 'hang it in the Louvre' bangers to the worst World Cup jersey ever - we rate the good, bad and Irish of RWC kits

1st September, 2023
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1st September, 2023
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I’m just going to start with this: the 2023 will feature the greatest collection of rugby jerseys ever assembled before the William Webb Ellis Cup, and I won’t hear any arguments against this.

Not even a hint of hyperbole. Every single Rugby World Cup jersey launch has given me something I’ve loved – even the ones that are actually terrible.

But where do they all rank? Who nailed the brief? Who dialled it in from the Riviera?

Well thank you, I’m glad you asked.

But first, a comment on collars. They’re back, baby.

And I say that because from the moment they started disappearing from modern jerseys 20-plus years ago, every new jersey release from any country (or indeed, any club) has been greeted with people losing their proverbial minds in the rush to complain about the lack of collar.

Personally, I’m not fussed. I absolutely prefer jerseys with collars, but I’m not the full-time pro player trying not to be tackled by Eben Etzebeth or Jonathan Danty, and I won’t be marking any down in this exercise just because they don’t have one.

It is great to see more of them for this tournament, though. And proper collars, mostly. Well, as proper as they can get on modern jerseys. Some countries have flirted with a hint of collar over the years, but they just look like a nervous turtle when we’re blessed with the genuine article this year.

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For this exercise, I’m using three categories and one sub-category and I really only have one rule: points off if the alternate strip looks better than the main strip.

And I do like the Harry Jones rule, too: they can’t make props look fat.

Category 1: the Glorious

The absolute stars of the show, and I’m very happy to say it’s a hot field.

It would be damn-near un-Australian to not include the Wallabies jersey in this category, but I genuinely love it anyway. The Roar’s new mates at Asics have done a bang-up job of the Australian kit, and the process a few years ago to nail down the proper shade of Wallaby Gold carries through.

Importantly, I’ve had genuine thoughts of buying the 2023 jersey, whereas I wasn’t fussed about 2007 and 2011 and absolutely hated the 2015 strip.

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Chile and Georgia both fit into this category for staying true to their signature colours, while also incorporating some really cool detail; a diagonal feather detail across the front of Los Cóndores jersey, and the Borjgali, the Georgian symbol of the Sun and eternity, across the Lelos’ jersey.

Both the Lelos and Los Cóndores have really smart-looking white alternate strips, too.

Portugal’s layered, chequered red jersey is among the best strips of RWC 2023, and I’ve loved it from the moment I saw it. Yes, it does look quite ‘footbally’ but it Portugal’s footballing prowess can inspire Os Lobos, then I’m all for it.

Romania and Samoa have both stayed true to their traditional rugby colours of gold and royal blue, respectively, and they just look great. Both feature some really cool detail traditional to their respective countries; Romania’s featuring a black pattern detail on the right arm and red on the left. Manu Samoa’s jersey features traditional motif designs across the lower back.

Romania and Samoa also have sharp white alternate strips to complement their main kit.

South Africa’s new Nike kit is just magnificent. It looks great in sponsored form as we saw through The Rugby Championship and last weekend in London, but in clean RWC guise, it is just… chef’s kiss emoji. It’s a shame, then, about their abomination of a turquoise alternate strip. The pattern itself is fine, but turquoise? It’s a no from me.

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Tonga look to have gone with a darker shade of their traditional red, maybe pushing into blood red territory, which sounds ominous for the rest of Pool B.

Uruguay are once again in their traditional ‘mid-blue’, by which I mean darker than Argentinean sky blue, but lighter than Samoa’s royal blue and Italy’s slightly lighter Azzurri blue. But Los Teros will only play in their traditional blue against New Zealand according to reports, playing the rest of their Pool A games in a shade more Wallabies gold than Romania yellow, which represents the sun on the Uruguayan flag. And it looks pretty sweet, maybe better than their traditional strip, which means points off.

Wales round out the Glorious collection, and the addition of the crisp white collar to the traditional, if perhaps a touch darker scarlet red is just wonderful. I’m actually having trouble putting it into words, that’s how much I love it. There’s always been something about the Welsh red for me, but I don’t know what it is. Their black alternate strip is a bit of a letdown though, I must say. It’s funny how few teams can pull black off on a rugby pitch.

Category 1b: the Double Bangers

The nations where both strips are just the business. Both deserving of entries in the Glorious category.

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And it starts with Argentina. An early adopter of the collar on modern jerseys, Los Pumas RWC edition is just a wonderful iteration of a jersey that I challenge anyone to find fault with (spoiler: you’d be wrong anyway). But then I take another look at their alternate strip, and it’s just magic.

The navy blue strip is adorned with a white diagonal sash which pays tribute to Los Granaderos and the idea of Argentina’s independence.  When General Don José de San Martín came from Europe to Argentina in the early 1800s and was tasked with forming an army, he created the Regimiento de Granaderos a Caballo (Regiment of Grenadiers on Horseback). He instilled three principles that were non-negotiable: courage, pride and responsibility.

It’s just the perfect carry over for Los Pumas, and I love this alternate strip more with every glimpse.

Next is Fiji, and oh my goodness, haven’t Nike smashed it again. The Flying Fijians’ customary white jersey features black trims and collar, as well as traditional black motif designs down the side panels. I didn’t think it could be topped, but then I saw their alternate strip.

And I’m sorry, Eds, but holy shit, it’s good. It’s better than good, it might just be the most striking playing strip ever worn at a Rugby World Cup. A predominantly black number is fronted by red palm fronds that just look magnificent, and if Fiji go deep in this tournament like current form suggests they should, both their jerseys could become instant classics.

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Italy and Scotland both fall into this category, too, and for the same reason: they took their famous rugby colours (the aforementioned Azurri blue and Scottish navy), added feature details that complement (wreath leaves and a blue/green tartan), and their emblems stand out so perfectly. And then they repeated all that in white for the alternate strip, and it’s a genuine toss-up which one is best.

Paolo Garbisi of Italy in action during the Summer International match between Ireland and Italy at Aviva Stadium on August 5, 2023 in Dublin, Ireland. (Photo by Charles McQuillan/Federugby/Federugby via Getty Images)

Paolo Garbisi of Italy. (Photo by Charles McQuillan/Federugby/Federugby via Getty Images)

Italy adds a collar, Scotland doesn’t, though you can buy a cotton version of the Scottish jersey with a collar that looks even better again. Anyone going to a merch stand in France, I’ll have one of these in my size, thanks.

Category 2: ‘Meh…’

France, Japan, Namibia, New Zealand. They’re all fine, but is ‘fine’ good enough alongside 14 others already hanging in the Louvre? No, it’s not.

I don’t know what I expected of France as a host nation, but they’re just running out as Les Bleus again. And even their white strip is fine too, but it’s all just too… meh.

Gael Fickou of France during the 2022 Autumn International test match between France and Australia at Stade de France on November 5, 2022 in Saint-Denis near Paris, France. (Photo by Jean Catuffe/Getty Images)

Gael Fickou. (Photo by Jean Catuffe/Getty Images)

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I love Japan’s strips, I really do. The red hoops with the gold, and the blue and black alternate. Both look great. But both look *exactly the same* as what they wore in 2019! And sure, that was great four years ago, but now? Meh.

I’m afraid to say I have to remind myself Namibia’s colours every four years, and I can confirm that they’re still going around in blue. And it’s fine, but… meh.

My favourite Namibian rugby fact remains that of Dr Rudie van Vuuren, a qualified physician and obstetrician who has been at the forefront in fighting against HIV/AIDS in his home country, and remains the only person ever to play a Rugby World Cup and a Cricket World Cup in the same year, as the flyhalf and allrounder did in 2003.

And brings us to New Zealand. The release of the All Blacks RWC jersey was met with lead balloons and universal disappointment, but now that I’ve actually seen this supposed monstrosity in the flesh, I think the reaction was a bit over the top! For one thing, the stylised fern design is much more subtle and not nearly as noticeable in the flesh as the media shots made out. But it’s still not that striking, I must say.

So, it’s fine. Their white alternate strip does look great however, so that’s points off again. I don’t know how you can bugger black up, but I think they’ve done it. Meh.

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Category 3: What the …?!?

I don’t know how you can bugger white up, either, but England have managed to do that as well.

All the other white jerseys at this World Cup have something about them; a traditional motif, or a pattern of significance that makes an otherwise white jersey their white alternate national strip.

England have taken a white jersey and… did nothing. Slapped a rose and a number on it. They might have put a bit more padding in the shoulders of the number 10 jersey, so as not to kill someone, but that’s it. White jerseys, given straight to bored players at a photoshoot and they were done. Plus, their navy blue alternate strip is way better.

Finally, you remember when you were a kid and you had a favourite texta that you used until you got every last skerrick of colour out of? Barely distinguishable by the time you finally threw it out? Not so much a marker pen, but rather a hinter pen?

Ireland designed their 2023 Rugby World Cup jersey with their favourite green texta. I don’t know what shade of green it’s supposed to be, but it’s a pale shadow of whatever that is.

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And for it’s first public showing, they put it on a guy who may or may not have been the designer, wearing baggy jeans and sneakers, and standing on the end of a catwalk like he just had no trucks left to give. Could not care less.

And now Ireland – arguably the best team in the world – will be trying to win an elusive Rugby World Cup in one of the worst jerseys ever to grace the quadrennial showcase of the game they play in heaven.

Touché, rugby Gods, touché.

Rugby World Cup jerseys by the numbers

By manufacturer:

Macron – (7) Georgia, Italy, Portugal, Romania, Samoa, Scotland, Wales

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Nike – (3) Argentina, Fiji, South Africa

Canterbury – (2) Ireland, Japan

Umbro – (2) Chile, England

adidas – New Zealand

Asics – Australia

BLK – Namibia

Flash – Uruguay

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FXV – Tonga

Le Coq Sportif – France

By colour:

Blue – (7) Argentina, France, Italy, Namibia, Samoa, Scotland, Uruguay

Red – (6) Chile, Georgia, Japan, Portugal, Tonga, Wales

Gold – (2) Australia, Romania

Green – (2) Ireland, South Africa

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White – (2) England, Fiji

Black – New Zealand

Collars – Argentina, Fiji, Italy, New Zealand, South Africa, Wales

Hoops – Argentina, Japan

Backed by Chocolate – Australia

You’re all very welcome. It’s been my genuine pleasure.

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