England shirt launch: RFU apologise for including Victorian Cross-design after criticism claiming it 'touched a raw nerve with a lot of people'

The RFU released a statement saying 'it was certainly never our intention to cause this'

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The Independent Online

The Rugby Football Union has apologised "to those who may have taken offence" over the new England playing kit.

England's new Canterbury-manufactured shirts - the traditional white jersey and a crimson alternate shirt - feature Victoria Cross designs that comprise numerous small rubber grips to help deaden the impact of the ball.

Victoria Cross Trust chairman Gary Stapleton criticised the RFU for having had no contact with the organisation over using the Victoria Cross emblem on shirts that were officially launched earlier this week.

Stapleton claims the move has "touched a raw nerve with a lot of people."

The Victoria Cross, the British and Commonwealth armed forces' most prestigious medal, has only been awarded 1,354 times during its 158-year existence, most recently in 2012.

The new white shirt will be worn for the first time when England kick off their autumn Test schedule by hosting world champions New Zealand at Twickenham on November 8.

In a statement, the RFU said: "We would like to apologise to those who may have taken offence with our new kit. It was certainly never our intention to cause this.

"We are huge supporters of our service personnel and respect and value their support for England.

"We have a long-standing relationship with the Royal British Legion, supporting their poppy appeal at the relevant Twickenham international every year, and have helped raise over £2million for them and for other service charities such as Help for Heroes.

"We will be contacting the Victoria Cross Trust and the Victoria Cross and George Cross Association to see how we can also support their worthwhile work going forwards."

Stapleton earlier told Press Association Sport: "It is a shame that they didn't think or consider talking to us first. They would not have used a poppy without talking to the Royal British Legion.

"We got a phone call from a journalist saying 'are you aware this has happened, and what are your thoughts on it?' At first, I didn't know what to think.

"Using that symbol, you have got to look at it in what context. In the context that they are making money off the selling of the shirts, that's highly inappropriate.

"If, for example, they were publicly stating they were supporting the work of the Victoria Cross Trust and to recognise the bravery of the men that they were going to place the symbol on their shirts for the season and a percentage of the sale of the shirts would go to the Trust, that would be appropriate.

"To that end, I don't think anyone would have had an issue with it.

"I certainly don't think the general public would have viewed it the way they are now. The guys there (RFU) wouldn't have the PR disaster that they have got on their hands right now.

"We had no contact before, and none since. We have said we are more than happy, even at this stage, to talk to them, to help them and guide them.

"We have had quite a bit of feedback that has been quite derogatory towards the RFU. Not just from families and relatives, but also from our members, staff and general supporters.

"It has touched a raw nerve with a lot of people.

"Our door is open, our phone number is on our website. We are more than happy to work with them, if not on this, on something else in the future. There is a huge crossover between the VC and its history, and rugby."

England head coach Stuart Lancaster has drawn heavily on England's rich rugby history to instil a stronger sense of national pride throughout his tenure as head coach.

Lancaster created the Arthur Harrison Award, where England coaches select a winner after every match for the player producing the best defensive performance.

Harrison is England's only rugby international to be awarded the Victoria Cross, bestowed posthumously after he lost his life in the Zeebrugge raid of April 1918 in the First World War.

England Sevens, meanwhile, launched shirts earlier this year bearing crosses inspired by the George Cross military medal.

PA

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