Why Do Rugby Shirts Have Collars? (Illustrated)

If you watched the final of the 2019 Rugby World Cup, you may have noticed that the international players didn’t have traditional collars on their shirts.

But go back to the first World Cup of 1987, and you’ll see collars on every shirt.

Traditionally, rugby shirts have had collars since the sport began. This article looks at how collars have developed on a typical jersey.

Why Do Rugby Shirts Have Collars?

The first rugby matches were played by English schoolboys in the 1830s who wore their school caps and collared shirts.

As mens’ clubs grew through the 19th century, the sport was associated with gentlemen who wore ties off the field. On the field, they retained their collars.

Bow ties on the field!

In the very early days, players wore bow ties on the field.

But this was both impractical and dangerous. Nobody wants their neck squeezed by someone pulling their tie!

Newspapers at the time would occasionally remark on a player who was wearing a monocle!

Woolen shirts and cotton collars

The earliest players wore flannel shirts but this quickly changed to knitted wool shirts. You can check out our article on why rugby shirts are also called jerseys.

These shirts often had cotton collars instead of wool. There’s a good reason for that: avoiding an itchy neck!

Cotton shirts and collars

Collared jerseys continued when rugby shirts switched to cotton in the mid-twentieth century.

Manufacturers started to mix synthetic materials with cotton in modern shirts, but the collars were still present into the 1980s.

Do Rugby Shirts Need Collars?

Is there any advantage that having a collar gives a rugby player?

Well, given that the modern elite players don’t wear collars, the answer is there is no sporting need.

However, sports tend to keep long-standing traditions. Some of rugby’s traditions, like calling the referee “sir”, may seem archaic.

But they are rooted in the origins of the game as a “gentleman’s” sport. This contrasted with soccer which historically was more of a sport of the common people.

It’s great that some old traditions have been kicked aside, such as women not playing rugby. But every sport has characteristics that are worth preserving.

Many rugby fans like to pay homage to tradition by wearing rugby shirts that have collars.

Now, let’s take a look at collars through the decades, starting with the first rugby World Cup.

Collars At The Rugby World Cups

This is an England player at the 1987 World Cup who was sporting a relatively stiff collar. You can also see buttons on the shirt

1987

Let’s move four years later at the 1991 World Cup.

Do your recognize that cleft chin in the picture below? Yes, this was the England captain and centre, Will Carling.

You can see that the collar isn’t as tightly angled. The player here has one button done.

1991

I’ll fast forward to 1999 and a young Jonny Wilkinson.

The collar is just a little shorter and thinner. You may notice that Wilkinson is also following a fairly recent trend at that time. He is wearing rugby shoulder pads.

1999 England

Our next picture will be Jonny Wilkinson again, four years later. This would be his triumphant year when England lifted the cup.

When Rugby Shirts First Lost Their Collars

Most teams at the 2003 World Cup had collars on their jerseys. But England arrived with major innovations to their shirts.

We’ve got a separate article on how rugby shirts evolved to a tight design. But the change wasn’t just to make the shirt tight-fitting.

You can spot the difference immediately: no collar.

2003 England

He’s also lost the shoulder pads!

This streamlined look was very different to other teams.

For example, here is one of their Australian opponents in the World Cup final. The Wallabies have a soft flat collar, although their shirts have no buttons.

2003 Australia

What About Current Shirts?

Let’s jump to the final of the 2019 Rugby World Cup.

England’s innovative shirts in 2003 are now the norm. There is a small change to the design of the neckline. It’s a bit more tailored.

2019 England

But this time, England wasn’t just one of a handful of countries without a collar. This is now the standard design.

Here is one of the eventual winners of the 2019 tournament (it’s the Springbok captain).

As you can see, there is no external collar. But teams do implement different designs to the neckline area.

2019 South Africa

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