England la mode are cock-a-hoop in new kit

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The Independent Online
RUGBY UNION

BY STEVE BALE

The England jersey has been adulterated in many ways since the Rugby Football Union claimed the copyright on it and yesterday the union came up with the fourth variant in as many years so as to cash in on the imminent World Cup. The garment's first match will be against Argentina in Durban on 27 May.

England played the first tournament in 1987 in the traditional, unadulterated all-white with red rose, were runners-up in 1991 with narrow red and blue hoops around the upper sleeves and since then have had go-faster red stripes down the sleeves.

They will go to South Africa in May with wider, joined-up red and blue hoops around the upper arms and blue collar, with a fetching second strip of red with narrow blue hoops around the lower half. The new ensembles were modelled at Twickenham yesterday but not - unlike the first adulteration in '91 - by the England players themselves.

The RFU insisted yesterday that it would never stoop to profiteering, football-style, from the fashion demands of modern youth and noted, in all seriousness, that the jerseys would sell at its own Twickenham shop for £34.50, a discount of 49p.

"We are not ripping off anybody," David Robinson, of the union's finance and marketing committee, said.

"We believe youngsters today like a change. We have no intention of letting marketing, the tail, wag the dog but we believe we need to keep the England team in high profile with their kit."

This is certainly not the view of all, even most, members of the RFU and it was only after the union had become engaged in a legal wrangle with the manufacturers, Cotton Traders, in 1992 that it did not revert to all-white.

"Originally England wore a plain white shirt with a rose on it. Unfortunately, it was never possible for us to copyright that, so all and sundry could wear the England shirt with none of the royalties coming in to the RFU," Dudley Wood, the secretary, said yesterday. "So it was decided that we would try and establish a copyright shirt."

This the RFU has done so successfully that around 50,000 of designs past and present have been sold annually. The existing RFU agreement with Cotton Traders, which provides for changes on a maximum cycle of four years, concludes with the 1999 World Cup, when there could well be another new one.

Doubtless the white with blue and red hoops and blue collar (and red rose) will still be in use in 1998 when, Wood announced yesterday, England will host a tour of seven or eight matches by Australia that will include two Tests.

The RFU has to decide whether to maximise its income from the tour by playing both at Twickenham but a more likely alternative would be to stage the first Test at a football stadium in the North, which would be the first time England had played a home international other than at Twickenham since the Scotland game at Richmond in 1909.

The Wallabies' short visit ensures England do not go years into the 21st century before receiving them; they were last on tour in England in 1988.

With the exception of South Africa's brief appearance in 1992 on their post-boycott tour, this will be the first tour to the British Isles by any of the major southern-hemisphere rugby unions that has been confined to one country.

The RFU has also confirmed that it is seeking an extra international for next 18 November to mark the opening of Twickenham's West Stand but Wood said that the South African RFU had been premature in stating the Springboks would be the visitors since enquiries were also being made of other leading unions.

Rowell calls up Back for World Cup, page 31

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