The launch of a new British & Irish Lions rugby jersey is one of the most important jersey reveals on the rugby calendar. The combined team only tours once every four years so each jersey design holds a special significance for the players and fans. Canterbury will reveal the 2017 Lions Jersey on November 1 and ahead of the launch World Rugby Shop looks back at how the jersey has evolved since the first tour in 1888.
10. 1888 Tour To Australia
The first combined tour was an outlier in many ways, so much so that many don’t consider it a Lions tour at all. The team that traveled to Australia was predominantly made up of English players, and was completely unsanctioned by the Rugby Football Union or any other governing body.
The jersey was very interesting, however. It was comprised of thick red, blue and white hoops. Very different from the Lions jersey we know today and was the first of many experiments in Lions’ shirt designs.
9. 1904 Tour To Australia & New Zealand
The Lions name was still not being used by the team but the combined British Isles team was one of the most intimidating ever, with the tourists taking on not just Australia but the mighty New Zealand in one fell swoop. The jersey was another interesting one – with the multi-colored hoops of previous tours replaced with a primarily red jersey, with thin pinstripes of blue and white breaking things up.
8.1908 Tour To New Zealand & Australia
The 1908 tour was an anachronism for a variety of reasons – for starters, the Irish and Scottish unions neglected to participate in the tour, so only English and Welsh players were selected, causing it to be known as ‘The Anglo-Welsh’ tour.
The jersey itself was another curious design – with it’s thick white band running around the middle of the red jersey. It was unlike any Lions jersey to come before or after.
7. 1930 Tour to New Zealand
— Michael Davies (@mikeodavies) February 17, 2016
The significant presence of Scottish players in 1910 saw the side adopt dark blue jerseys, which were paired with white shorts and red socks, and the nickname ‘Lions’ began to be associated with the touring side. This trend continued in through to the tours to South Africa and Argentina in 1924 and 1927, which also saw a forerunner to the famous quartered badge make its debut, replacing the single heraldic lion on the team badge. When they returned to New Zealand in 1930 however, the Lions name, while still unofficial, was so prevalent that the quartered badge was replaced by three heraldric lions – a design element that would be revisited by many Lions jerseys in the modern era.
6. 1959 Tour To New Zealand
Having adopted the Lions name officially when the Lions returned after the Second World War in 1950, the Lions also adopted the famous red jersey permanently, and the look would remain broadly the same for the next 60-odd years.
What’s interesting about the 1959 shirt is who made them. Rather than take their shirts with them, the Lions ordered shirts from local manufacturers – in this case, a knitwear company by the name of Canterbury… 58 years later, Centerbury ended adidas 18-year run as jersey sponsor when the Lions signed the New Zealand company as their new technical sponsor.
5. 1993 Tour To New Zealand
The final tour series in the amateur era was noticeable for the first hint of the commercial world of sportswear making its way into the Lions mix. For the first time, a manufacturer’s logo was visible on the right breast of the shirt – in this case Nike – while the famous four nations badge also now included a scroll beneath it signifying the tour date and location.
4. 1997 Tour To South Africa
— British&Irish Lions (@lionsofficial) August 3, 2016
Perhaps the most memorable and famous Lions tour since their famous 1974 series victory in South Africa, the now fully professional Lions faced the Springboks wearing an adidas jersey for the first time. In addition to the famous three stripes on the sleeves, the jersey also featured a main sponsor on the front of the shirt for the first time, and also harked back to the pre-war Lions shirts with the gold lion on the collar.
3. 2001 Tour To Australia
— Independent Rugby (@IndoRugby) April 15, 2015
The 2001 tour to Australia was a brutal, ill-tempered affair that ultimately ended in a series defeat, but it also featured one of the more unconventional and bold Lions jerseys ever. With a pinstripe running up the side of the rib cage blending into an unconventionally placed three stripes around the top of the arms, the shirt also used a more modern stub-style collar – a feature that was kept on the 2005 jersey.
2. 2009 Tour To South Africa
Sir Ian McGeechan is 'Mr Lions'. 2009 tour to South Africa. pic.twitter.com/D6JDBPp75r
— Classic Rugby Shirts (@C15RugbyShirts) January 25, 2015
The 2009 tour was one of the most fiercely contested tours in recent memory which included one of the more memorable jerseys of the last few decades. This is the first Lions shirt since the 1950’s to feature no white collar – in fact it barely had a collar at all, sporting adidas’ ultra-low profile design. With just the famous three stripes on the sleeves, the only other ornamentation was a golden lion between the shoulder blades.
1. 2013 Tour To Australia
— Jerry K (@jerryk82like) June 22, 2016
The 2013 tour was adidas’ final one with the Lions, having outfitted the British & Irish team since 1997. The victorious Warren Gatland-led team also sported what’s is perhaps the nicest Lions jersey of modern times.
With a low-profile take on the classic white fold-over collar and subtle tonal red-on-red hoops in the body of the jersey harking back to that very first British Isles shirt, it truly was a fitting way for the German brand to cap off their time with the Lions.
The next step in the jersey’s evolution will be revealed on November 1 with new supplier Canterbury of New Zealand creating their first Lions shirt for over 50 years…