In almost all sports, this practice, born in the United States, has become common over the decades. But for rugby and its self-professed collective values, it was an event. Last Saturday at Murrayfield against Australia (15-16), the last name of the Scottish players flashed above their number on the back of the shirt. Owen Farrell and England will do the same on Sunday against Argentina at Twickenham.
It’s not the other way around for the Blues this Saturday night at the Stade de France, when they face the Wallabies. There is no “Dupont” or “Ntamack” written on the back of the hinge friends’ tunic. “We will see what the RFU does [la fédération anglaise] “Said Laurent Latour, director of communication and digital at the French Federation (FFR).
As stated: “We don’t plan to include jerseys with players’ names on the back, above the numbers. But we already make each jersey unique by combining the player’s name, his number of the selections, the date and the place of the match on the front, lower left, at groin level. »
This initiative, invisible to the (television) viewer, was applied for the first time on the occasion of France – Wales on October 24, 2020 (38-21). Since then, when the identity of the 23 elected officials was made official by coach Fabien Galthié, two days before a match, intendant Jean-Luc Passard has been busy personalizing each tunic, illustrated by Laurent Latour as “sacred”.
“A collective philosophical dimension”
Out of the question for the time being, therefore, to imitate the Scots and English. “This is something that is not very common in rugby,” continued the Federation’s “dircom”. There is a collective philosophical dimension. And the belief that the star is the team is deeply rooted in our sport. »
In football, it is common for a player to carry a favorite number throughout his career, such as Cristiano Ronaldo, aka CR7. It has nothing to do with the world of ovality in XV, where the starting left column systematically wears the 1, regardless of its identity, like the 3rd center line is the 8 or the back is the 15. “I cannot say that I am against [cette initiative] but it does bother me a bit, our number doesn’t belong to us,” summed up the versatile 2nd row of Racing 92 and the Blues Cameron Woki, who will wear 4 against Australia.
“The English are already doing it in the Premiership and I think it’s good, judging by Toulousain Thibaut Flament, former 2nd line of Wasps and n ° 5 of France’s XV this Saturday night. But I prefer that the jerseys are not crowded. We represent a team and perhaps putting a name on a jersey is a bit individualistic. »
The Scottish and English Feds don’t have that kind of modesty. As you can imagine, their choice was not only guided by the concern that every player’s grandmother might recognize her grandson in a confused ruck. RFU Chief Executive Bill Sweeney said the initiative “could bring fans closer to the international stars of our sport” and “can’t wait” to see their reaction. In other words, to see whether or not XV de la Rose supporters will spend their pounds on “Smith No. 10” jerseys, as they idolize Marcus Smith, Harlequins’ star opening half.
During the Covid-19 crisis, FFR found another innovative marketing idea, which was born in one of the workshops led by the players at each gathering in Marcoussis. With rugby fans unable to go to stadiums due to health restrictions, the Blues went to them, incorporating the names of 1,900 French amateur clubs inside the jersey numbers. “We have multiplied by 16 our sales in the Federation store between October 2020 and October 2021, and we have made this the best selling jersey in the history of the XV of France,” congratulated Laurent Latour.
Our old country was not always hermetic to the fashion that spread across the Channel. In the 1990s, when stuttering professionalism took a backseat to brown amateurism, supporters of Castres, Grenoble or Brive could recognize their favorites on the back, thanks to the surnames on the shirts. “It took several seasons, recalls François Duboisset, former 3rd line of the Corrèze club. We were in a relatively unknown world, with few television broadcasts and it was a nice little touch of marketing. »
Soon the names of the players in the Top 14?
Beautiful, but artisanal. “We have a set of jerseys, sometimes two for a season, continuing with the 1997 European champions, then passing through Canal + and now responsible for Rugby World, the monthly FFR. The name appears on a strip of cloth, which is sewn before the match and not sewn afterwards. Once, he was torn by the encounter. Duboisset, however, joined the young Woki and Flament on a philosophical level: “In rugby, you only get into the skin of a number 7, a 12 or another for 80 minutes. Then, we put the tunic back on. »
On a more prosaic level, clubs also prefer to reserve as many pitches as possible for their sponsors. But no one is saying that the French championship will not linger in the past, and that the Top 14 will not follow the example of the English championship as well as the XV in the Rose and the Thistle. In any case, its broadcaster has nothing against it. “Canal+ is always in favor of this kind of development because it will help the public to identify the players,” the encrypted channel confessed.