With so few top-level teams in international rugby union, it’s not surprising that the England national team didn’t need to wear an alternative to white shirts in its first 128 years of existence.
While Fiji also play in white, England didn’t play them for the first time until 1988 and in the countries’ first three meetings, it was the southern hemisphere side that changed shirts, using two different hooped styles.
In fact, the first time England deviated from white was on their tour of Australia in 1999 – to mark the centenary of Australia’s first game against an English representative side, the sides took to the field in similar colours to those worn in 1899, England in navy with red and white trim and the hosts in light blue.
However, later that year England would be in navy again, this time for a more functional reason. The 1999 Rugby World Cup saw the competition expanded to 20 teams for the first time, with five pools of four rather than the four groups of five nowadays. That meant that the five second-placed teams and the best third-placed side competed for the three remaining quarter-final spots alongside the five group winners.
After coming second to New Zealand in their pool, England were paired with Fiji on Wednesday, October 20 at Twickenham. Whether by virtue of a coin-toss or the enforcement of rugby’s tradition of the home team changing – even though technically Wales were the host country for the tournament – they turned out in this kit.
A 45-24 win saw England safely through to the last eight, though there their tournament ended as Jannie de Beer kicked five drop-goals for South Africa, who beat them 44-21.
The navy shirts weren’t needed again and it wouldn’t be until the 2000s that England would wear change jerseys again, though recent years have seen them opt to don alternatives in some autumn international games, even when no colour-clash exists.