Rugby: the world in union, 1986

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One of the books we received for Christmas was the autobiography of former Ireland rugby union team captain Donal Lenihan, My Life in Rugby.

Lenihan’s career as a player and a manager traversed many important milestones in the sport and he gives due consideration to these rather than just providing a slew of match reports.

In 1986, for example, Lenihan would have expected to have been included in the planned British & Irish Lions tour to South Africa, but the tour didn’t go ahead as global opposition to the Apartheid system in South Africa.

As a compromise of sorts the Lions did play one game that year, against a Rest of The World selection (consisting of players from Australia, France, New Zealand and, controversially, South Africa) at the Cardiff Arms Park on April 16 as part of the centenary celebrations of the International Rugby Football Board (IRFB, later IRB and now World Rugby).

In his book, Lenihan notes that, while the players chosen received Lions blazers, it isn’t considered an official Test match, whereas a 2005 game against Argentina at the Millennium Stadium in Cardiff is. Naturally, Lions’ classic kit – the red shirt representing Wales, white shorts (England) and navy socks (Scotland) with green tops (Ireland) – was worn.

Being kit-nerds, we wondered what ‘The Rest’ wore, and then our hearts were set positively racing when Lenihan mentioned a second centenary celebration game at Twickenham in London three days later. In this match, the countries which competed in the Five Nations would take on an ‘Overseas Unions’ side – effectively, the France players were switching sides from the Cardiff clash.

In the first game, ‘The Rest’ wore white jerseys – not representative of any of the countries, though the blue collar was presumably for France. The shorts were black (New Zealand’s colour) while the socks were green with gold turnovers (South Africa and Australia respectively). The crest was a map of the world in a rugby ball with laurel leaves and an inscription marking the occasion.

The Rest won that game 15-7 in the rain and the visiting side would also triumph in better conditions in London, 32-13 the final score.

In the latter tie, both sides would have the IRFB centenary crest on one-off jersey styles. While the programme cover acknowledged that the blue of Scotland was darker than that of France, The Five Nations’ jersey didn’t and – as on the Lions kit – the green of Ireland was once again under-represented (we’re not bitter, honestly).

The kit of the Overseas Unions perhaps prioritised Australia and New Zealand above South Africa, but as the Springboks were in an exile that lasted from 1985-91, that’s perhaps fair enough.

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