DURBAN – At the commencement of the Rugby Championship, SA Rugby sent out a picture of stand-in captain Eben Etzebeth wearing a red jersey, flanked by Siya Kolisi in the regular green Test jersey and midfielders Damian de Allende and Jan Serfontein in yellow-and-blue training jerseys.
The colour mix intended to replicate the South African flag, and apparently “complete the jigsaw” along with the training jerseys. A show of unity.
And, the official word was, it had been commissioned to mark the 25th anniversary of rugby unity in South Africa.
All very nice ideas, and noble enough reasons to do something special for a country that was brought together off the back of a very special World Cup campaign back in 1995.
However, the reception had many seeing red. The Boks will now be wearing this jersey this weekend as they face Argentina in Salta.
It is a dangerous game to mess with tradition in a sport like rugby, especially in a country like South Africa where the phrase: “My blood is green” is idiomatic. Seemingly, “My blood is red” does not have the same effect.
Traditionalists are not seeing the funny side of this one-off jersey, and they have their point, but there also needs to be some perspective.
Not everything about the Springbok brand is pure and welcoming; it has been, and still sometimes is, seen as a mark of segregation from the times when players of colour were not even allowed to strive to play for their nation.
That is not to say the Bok should be banned and all history erased. A celebration of a Rainbow Nation makes good sense, and even if it is a red jersey, at least it is striking and it is getting people talking.
The issue I have with the red jersey is the manner in which it has been done has made it feel like a marketing gimmick masquerading as a noble act.
There has been very little explanation, and a little too much input from the men profiting from making the jerseys, ASICS.
Barring one press release, filled with phrases like “limited edition”, “available in shops”, as well as the actual price, I have seen little celebration or explanation of the jersey.
Not many will have seen or even known about the Boks training in blue-and-yellow jerseys, so to many we now have green, white, and red tops – a bit like Wales, rather than our own flag.
The story behind this jersey, and the reason for doing this is a good one.
“Rugby unity was achieved on 20 March 1992 following covert negotiations between the old South African Rugby Board (SARB) and the banned ANC from 1988 onwards,” the SARU press release reads.
“SARB and the non-racial South African Rugby Union, the South African Rugby Football Federation and the South African Rugby Association came together in 1992 to form the SA Rugby Football Union (SARFU) under the joint presidency of Ebrahim Patel (SARU) and Danie Craven (SARB). SARFU’s name was changed to SARU in 2003.”
If you are to be bold with a red jersey, be bold with promoting it and do it with pride, rather than with a sheepish grin unless, of course, it was ASICS’ idea?