Today, March 20, Wales go to France for their final Six Nations Championship game, hoping to complete a fifth grand slam since the competition was expanded from five teams to six in 2000.
The first of those clean sweeps was in 2005 and that year was also the first of three consecutive visits to Paris where the Welsh jerseys had to be altered in order to comply with sponsorship rules. In the mid-1990s, the advertising of alcohol was prohibited, meaning that Newcastle United and Rangers had the Center Parcs logo on their shirts for European ties in France in 1996-97.
In 2004, the Welsh Rugby Union signed a new deal with SA Brain & Company Ltd – a brewery based in Cardiff – with the Brains logo replacing that of outdoor clothing and footwear company Rockport, which was part of the same group as kit manufacturer Reebok. Wales had beaten England and Italy in the opening two rounds of the 2005 Six Nations before the trip to France. Instead of Brains, the shirts said ‘Brawn’, with the company name also removed from the dragon logo.
A late penalty and drop goal from Stephen Jones earned Wales a 24-18 win and they rounded off the campaign with victories against Scotland and Ireland to complete the sweep.
Two years later, the updated Wales kit – now devoid of any green trim – had the words ‘Brains Beer’ on the front and so the variant for the Stade de France followed suit. Hoping to draw from the spirit of 2005, the shirts now said ‘Brawn Again’, but this time France triumphed, 32-21, and they would go on to win the championship.
An interesting addition to the Wales kit had come in the 2006 Six Nations, with players’ names added above the numbers on the back while there were also Melchester Rovers-style numbers on the left sleeve. This practice stopped after the 2008 competition.
The Brains deal would end in the summer of 2010, to be replaced by insurance company Admiral, but the 2009 Six Nations would allow for one last bit of advertising creativity when they played France in Saint-Denis. This time, the Wales kit, now made by Under Armour and which had green socks, specifically advertised the Brains flagship beer SA and that allowed for some lovely linguistic wordplay.
Ostensibly, the jerseys for the France game – another loss, 21-16 – merely carried the English and French words for a try, but the pronunciation of ‘essai’ meant that the message was to ‘try SA’.