From The Vaults

21 February 2024
The Evolution of the Rugby Jersey

Rugby union has changed considerably since Ireland captain D.B. Walkington played an international match against Scotland wearing a monocle. Whilst the playing apparel of the nineteenth-century might seem a world away, modern rugby kits and cap-awarding traditions can be traced back to the sport's early origins. Like schoolchildren of today, boys at Rugby School wore sports kits, and it was these clothes that formed the basis of the first rugby outfits.

The jerseys also included Dri-Fit™ Mesh ventilation panels designed to keep players from overheating, and rubber grip prints to aid ball retention. The three designs were merged into one upon release. Sadly, the Outside Back design [image 3 above], which was effectively a leotard, never saw the light of day.

The principles of Nike's 2003 Dri-Fit™ jerseys were quickly adopted by other manufacturers and most international sides wore similarly designed kit during the 2003 Rugby World Cup. The designs were then adopted by leading club sides throughout Europe and the Southern hemisphere. Subsequent jerseys have witnessed small refinements but have not altered significantly.

Today's rugby jerseys provide many of the same basic functions as those worn at Rugby School in the mid-nineteenth century. The greatest changes - such as fabric and fit - reflect a century and a half of technological improvement. Other additions such as sponsor marks and manufacturer logos illustrate how the culture of the sport has radically changed from a schoolboy pastime into a global sporting-corporate showpiece.

This article is written using content from an exhibition held at the World Rugby Museum in 2011-12