When a group of Australia’s finest players gathered to talk about a new Wallaby jersey, discussion was supposed to centre on the most appropriate golden colour. But it didn’t take long to gravitate to a golden time . . . a rich period in the game through which most of them had played. The emotional attachment was just too strong.
In the end the result was good anyway . . . a vibrant and permanent jersey colour that reverted to the gold of old, and a nod to a significant heritage, reflective of a period not so long ago in which Australian Rugby led the world.
The mission was simple. The style and colour of the Wallaby jersey had wobbled all over the place for years, morphing into the pasty yellow of recent times that had drifted well away from the original green and gold.
“They had all the jumpers of the last few decades lined up for us when we met to talk about it, and the difference was stark,” reflected Simon Poidevin, one of the high-octane Wallabies gathered for the judgment. “We all realised that the yellow just wasn’t us.”
So the colour was easy. The rich gold in which Australia played through the 1980s and 1990s was a no brainer. The debate then narrowed to trim colours . . . the gold collars of the 1984 Grand Slam team, or the green of the 1991 Rugby World Cup winners.
“It became pretty obvious that the success of those times drove the choice,” Poidevin continued.
“They were the best of times, and as we reflected on them the choice of jumper was more about the time than the colour. We all wanted the deeper gold though.”
So half the group went for 1984 and half for 1991. Poidevin played in both so he didn’t care much. Andrew Slack, captain of the Grand Slam team, reckoned he had to vote for the 1984 strip or his mother would have given him the rounds of the kitchen.
Rugby Australia chairman Hamish McLennan had to break the tie, and went for 1991 on the basis of a public poll conducted by the Sydney Morning Herald. Nobody argued.
Australia’s jersey colours have had an erratic history. At the start Australian teams played in blue as the colony of NSW. When Queensland got going in the late 1920s, Australia would play in sky blue in Sydney, and the maroon of Queensland when they were in Brisbane.
For a time they played in blue and maroon broken bars. By the 1930s they had adopted a green jersey with the Australian coat of arms and white shorts.
That stuck until 1961, a transformative year in many ways. Australia had played no international Rugby in 1960 (the Union was broke then), and when they kicked off against Fiji the following year under the captaincy of 21-year-old Ken Catchpole in his first Test, it was seen as a new era in the game.
The team was scheduled to make a short tour of South Africa that year, and decided on a gold jumper and green shorts so they could differentiate from South Africa’s almost identical green jumper.
They returned to play a Sydney Test against France in the traditional green, but decided thereafter that a gold jumper and green shorts gave them a consistent and distinctive strip.
Coincidentally that was the first year I covered international rugby and I remember snaring one of the prototype gold jerseys.
Someone at the Australian Rugby Union (as it was called then) gave it to me - they only had two full-time employees in those days so the suspects were limited - and I refereed school matches in it for years.
It was a deep, burnished gold with a quilted shoulder stitching to replicate padding.
Now that we are back to the originally intended gold, the traditions embraced by the now permanent golden jersey are significant.
“We were all conscious of what those colours meant,” Poidevin went on.
“It was the colour Greg Cornelsen wore when he scored his four tries against the All Blacks at Eden Park. “It was the colour we wore in 1984 when we made the Grand Slam tour of Britain in 1984 and won all four Tests. It was the colour we paraded in our Rugby World Cup win in 1991. It was great gear then, and it’s great gear now.”
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Indeed, the new strip was striking when trotted out for the series against France, and if it re-kindled memories of a grand time in our game, that was a bonus too. If Australian rugby for most of its existence was a bit of a minnow, it certainly cannot be denied that it had some high times.
The emerging teams of the 1980s and 1990s represented the best of those times, built on the great step forward of the 1970s when a national coaching plan and a universal determination to lift us from the floor brought enormous benefits.
The 1984 tour, with men like David Campese, Michael Lynagh, Mark Ella, Nick Farr Jones, Steve Cutler and Enrique Rodriguez leading the charge, brought that improvement of the late amateur era to a head.
A Bledisloe win followed in New Zealand, and by the time of the 1991 Rugby World Cup, Australia was best in the world, not only in performance but also in the structures and development processes it had put in place through the work of that national coaching committee.
The world started copying many of those processes. It was a gold standard in more ways than one.
Campese, Phil Kearns, Nick Farr Jones, Slack, Poidevin and the rest who were all part of that contributed to the choice of colours that now will carry Australia into the future.
We’re done with yellow. The gold standard is back.