SYDNEY – The Wallabies will wear an indigenous-themed jersey for at least one World Cup match, it was revealed Thursday, as rugby chiefs warned against writing off the team despite poor recent form.
Australia have donned a shirt paying tribute to Aborigines' role in rugby twice before - at home against the All Blacks in 2017 and away to England last year.
They will do so again by wearing their green, indigenous-themed alternate strip in the World Cup group game against Uruguay, and are also pressing to use it if they make the semi-finals.
“I'm extremely proud and honoured to hopefully have the opportunity to wear this in the World Cup,” said Wallabies star Kurtley Beale, who is of Aboriginal heritage, in unveiling the shirt.
“It's obviously a special moment, a pinnacle moment for Australian rugby to be able to recognise and acknowledge first nations peoples in such a beautiful jersey.”
More than a dozen players of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander descent have represented Australia, including Mark Ella, Lloyd Walker, Wendell Sailor and Saia Faingaa.
Indigenous Australian NBA star Patty Mills was quick to show his support, with the San Antonio Spurs point guard changing his Twitter profile picture to show Beale wearing the jersey.
Rugby Australia chief Raelene Castle, meanwhile, said the Wallabies will be “underdogs” when the tournament in Japan starts in September, but that the two-time champions were ready to prove the critics wrong.
“There are some doubters but there is nothing like a World Cup to bring out the best in our Wallabies,” she told reporters.
She said coach Michael Cheika, who took Australia to the 2015 final, “has proven it is never a wise move to write him off in a World Cup and don't we all love a good underdog story.
“There is no greater challenge in our sport and it is a challenge our players are preparing to meet head-on.”
Australia won just four of 13 Tests last year, and they will be without influential fullback Israel Folau, who has been banned from Australian rugby for homophobic comments, while flanker David Pocock is struggling with injury.
Australia open their campaign against Fiji on September 21 in Sapporo. Wales and Georgia are also in their group, as well as Uruguay.
Agence France-Presse (AFP)