Rugby News: ‘Bring fans closer to the stars’ – Six Nations to trial jersey change, Razor reveals timeline for All Black skipper announcement
All Six Nations players are set to feature their names on the back of their shirts when the 2024 iteration kicks off on February 2nd.
According to reports in the Daily Telegraph, the move has been reportedly supported by all six members in a bid to appeal to more casual fans of the game.
The jerseys had been trialled in the 2022 Autumn Series by England and Scotland, a trial which continued into the 2023 Six Nations, with Italy joining them.
However, 2024 will see the remaining international sides in Ireland, France and Wales follow suit in a bid to make the game more marketable towards a younger generation.
Union has traditionally steered away from the approaches taken by football clubs – where a player has their name and an assigned shirt number – in favour of players wearing the traditional positional number on the field.
This positional approach is also used in Rugby League, but discussions there have been ongoing as to whether player names should be introduced on NRL and State of Origin jerseys.
In recent years, with the growth in popularity of other sports and a younger generation increasingly being drawn to individual players as much as teams, several of the unions are increasingly conscious of rugby’s need to attract more casual viewers – fans who may not be as familiar with the likes of stars like Maro Itoje, Finn Russell or Louis Rees-Zammit – changing positional numbers every game.
Other reasons also include commercial and merchandising opportunities, as player names can also prove to be a serious money spinner with the likes of football players like Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo generating hundreds of millions of dollars in merch sales for their clubs.
Rugby has traditionally stayed away from such approaches, and while it is unlikely that a rugby union player would be able to net those sorts of numbers, Bill Sweeney, RFU’s chief executive, has argued such an approach could translate well into rugby.
“We think player names on shirts may have the potential to bring fans closer to the international stars of our game and we look forward to seeing the reaction to this initiative,” he said, upon announcement of the Autumn series trial in 2022.
Razor announces timeline for All Black skipper selection
Scott Robinson has been hard at work prepping for the All Blacks’ first test matches of the year, the England series in July, and has revealed the three-time world champions are set for the biggest behind-the-scenes shake-up since Sir Graham Henry replaced John Mitchell in 2003.
Razor welcomed a 22-member squad in Auckland this week, which is reported to have included several players from last year’s World Cup squad. Sam Cane, Ardie Savea and Beauden Barrett were all not in attendance, with the trio currently on sabbaticals in Japan.
Cane and Savea, both former captains, will also not be taking part in Super Rugby Pacific this year, which opens the door for several other candidates.
Discussion around who will lead the new-look side has been of intense debate, and Razor played his cards close to his chest when asked who he has in mind.
“I’ll name the captain as we come into the [England] series when we name the squad,” he explained.
“I’ve got to get in front of a few people, have conversations, catch a few eyes, get on the odd knee and have some chats.
“It’s important we do that for all options.”
The good news for Robertson is that there are plenty of great options for him, including Crusaders captain Scott Barrett, Codie Taylor, as well as Blues captain Dalton Papali’i and occasional stand-in captain at the Chiefs, Luke Jacobson.
No West, Waqa!
Following being released from the Parramatta Eels last year, centre Waqa Blake was originally touted as the latest convert to rugby union.
Turns out, he might not be making the move to the 15-man code at all.
The 165 NRL-capped player, previously, had reportedly been in discussions to join an Australian Super Rugby franchise, namely the Western Force, for several months.
According to new reports earlier this week from The League Scene Podcast and Yorkshire Live, Blake will now reportedly stay in the 13-man game and head to England’s Super League to join St Helens.
St Helens are reportedly on the lookout for a new centre, and should Blake fill their final international quota spot, a deal could be finalised by the end of the week, although it is unclear how advanced negotiations are.
Should he end up in Merseyside, Blake should have plenty of company alongside ex-NRL players including Sione Mata’utia, Moses Mbye, Curtis Sironen, Agnatius Paasi and Konrad Hurrell.
The loss however would be the one that got away for the Western Force, who have plenty of depth questions that need to be resolved in the backline and back three: a position Blake could have helped address had he ended up in the West.