In almost all sports, this practice, which originated in the United States, has been common for decades. But for rugby and its self-declared collective values, it is an event. Last Saturday in Murrayfield against Australia (15-16), the Scottish players saw their last name crowded over their number on the back of their shirts. Owen Farrell and the British will follow suit on Sunday against Argentina at Twickenham.
Nothing of the kind for the Blues this Saturday night at the Stade de France, in front of the Wallabies. No “Dupont” or “Ntamack” lettering on the back of the hinge friends’ tunics. “We will see what the RFU is doing [la fédération anglaise] “Says Laurent Latour, director of communication and digital at the French Federation (FFR).
While specifying: “We do not intend to crowd the shirts with the names of the players on the back, above the numbers. But we already make each jersey unique by flocking the player’s name, his number of selections, the date and place of the match on the front face, bottom left, at the groin level. “
This initiative, invisible to the viewer, was applied for the first time on the occasion of France – Wales on 24 October 2020 (38-21). Since then, when the identity of the 23 elected officials was made official by coach Fabien Galthié, two days before a game, the steward Jean-Luc Passard has been busy customizing each tunic, which Laurent Latour calls “sacred”.
“A collective philosophical dimension”
Out of the question, for now, therefore, to imitate Scottish and English. “It’s less common in rugby,” continues 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 not uncommon for a player to carry a favorite number with him throughout his career, such as Cristiano Ronaldo, aka CR7. Nothing to do with the world of ovality at XV, where the left upright systematically carries the 1, whatever its identity, like the 3rd center line on the 8th or the back on the 15. “I can’t say disagree [cette initiative] but it bothers me a little, our number does not belong to us ”, sums up the versatile 2nd row of Racing 92 and Blues Cameron Woki, who will wear 4 against Australia.
“The British are already doing it in the Premiership and I find it nice, says Tolosain Thibaut Flament, former 2nd line of Vespas and 5th of the 15th of France this Saturday evening. But I prefer that the shirts are not flocked. We represent a team and it is perhaps a bit individualistic to give a name to a shirt. “
The Scottish and British feds have no such modesty. As you can imagine, their choice wasn’t driven solely by concern that each player’s grandmother might distinguish her granddaughter in a confused ruck. RFU CEO Bill Sweeney said the initiative “can bring fans closer to the international stars of our sport” and “can’t wait” to see their reaction. In other words, to see if XV de la Rose fans will spend their pounds on “Smith No. 10” jerseys, because they idolize Marcus Smith, the first half of the Harlequins.
During the Covid crisis, the FFR had found another innovative marketing idea, born in one of the player-led workshops during each rally in Marcoussis. As rugby fans could no longer come to the stadiums due to health restrictions, it was the Blues who came to them, integrating the names of France’s 1,900 amateur clubs into their jersey numbers. “We multiplied our sales in the Federation store by 16 between October 2020 and October 2021, and we made it the best-selling jersey in the history of the XV of France”, welcomes Laurent Latour.
Our old country has not always been hermetic to the fashion that is spreading across the Channel. In the 90s, when stammering professionalism pierced brown amateurism, the fans of Castres, Grenoble or Brive could thus recognize their favorites, thanks to the surnames on the shirts. “It lasted a few seasons, remembers François Duboisset, former 3rd row of the Corrèze club. We were in a somewhat nondescript world with few TV broadcasts and it was a nice marketing touch. “
Soon the name of the players in the Top 14?
Beautiful, but handcrafted. “We had a set of jerseys, sometimes two for a season, continues the 1997 European champion, then moved to Canal + and now in charge of Rugby Mag, the FFR monthly. The name appeared on a strip of fabric, sewn before the game and unstitched after. Once, it was ripped during the meeting. Duboisset, on the other hand, philosophically supports the young Woki and Flament: “In rugby you enter the skin of a number 7, a 12 or another for only 80 minutes. Next, we return the tunic. “
On a more prosaic level, clubs also prefer to reserve as many courts as possible for their sponsors. But nothing says that the French championship will not jump into the past soon, and that the Top 14 will not follow the example of the English championship as well as the XV at Rose and the Thistle. In any case, its broadcaster has nothing against it. “Canal + is always in favor of this kind of progress because it can help the public identify the players,” confides the encrypted channel.