Cherie Howie is a reporter for the Herald on Sunday.

The black and white of the All Blacks jersey debate

The latest All Blacks away jersey has sparked ­debate. But debate over the treasured kit of our national rugby team is nothing new, it's quite old. Almost a century old, in fact.

In 1930 the All Blacks switched out of their black uniform for the first time, New Zealand Sports Hall of Fame chief executive and sports author, journalist and historian Ron Palenski tells the Herald on Sunday.

"Great Britain wore blue so the All Blacks changed to white. There was a bit of a fuss then. The All Blacks play in black. People don't like it if you stuff with it.

"They're passionate about the All Blacks, rugby is part of the New ­Zealand psyche, and the black ­jersey has been around for such a long time."

The same goes for other high-­profile Kiwi uniforms.

Official dress for our Rio ­Olympians was described variously as boring, dull and drab, and Air New Zealand felt the sting of ­fashion critics after launching ­uniform changes in 2005 and 2010. Its new uniforms were ­described as having the Thunderbirds and "Barbie" look respectively.

The All Blacks' alternate strip was revealed on Monday, after a two-year development process.

White from the chest down, with a slanted silver fern and plenty of space for a large logo of team sponsor AIG, the jersey will debut this morning in the All Blacks' final test of 2016, against France in Paris.

The team will likely wear the ­jersey without complaint. The same cannot be said of some fans.

Palenski questions why the All Blacks are even switching - ­traditionally the home team wore an alternate strip to avoid a clash.

The 1884 New Zealand rugby union team. Photo / Wikimedia Commons
The 1884 New Zealand rugby union team. Photo / Wikimedia Commons

He is also perplexed at the ­decision to move away from the ­traditionally all-white alternate.

He believed decisions about the jersey were being driven by ­marketing, a theory also put ­forward by Northland MP New ­Zealand First leader Winston ­Peters this week.

"Clearly it's a sponsor pulling the strings for a new design in which their name dominates - on the new jersey the silver fern and the All Blacks name appear as an ­afterthought with AIG taking ­centre place in giant lettering."

Palenski sounds a warning about changes to the beloved black jersey. "Tradition takes a long time to build up, but can be lost in an ­instant."

Dave Gallaher of the 1905 Originals. Photo / Supplied
Dave Gallaher of the 1905 Originals. Photo / Supplied

15 facts about the famous All Blacks kit

1. A jersey worn by Originals' captain Dave Gallaher in 1905 was sold at auction in the United Kingdom last year for $275,000. Gallaher, who died in World War I, swapped the jersey with Wales captain Gwyn Nicholls, who then gave it to a van boy at his laundry business. The jersey stayed in the boy's family for the next 110 years.

2. In the mid-1980s the New Zealand Rugby Union began looking for ways to make the most of the All Blacks' brand, with the fern made smaller and the words New Zealand All Blacks stitched underneath.

The 1924 Invincible All Black Rugby Team. Photo / Herald
The 1924 Invincible All Black Rugby Team. Photo / Herald

3. The first signs of commercialism followed in 1993 when a small logo of Canterbury Clothing Company was added to the uniform. The following year the logo of Steinlager was added.

4. Traditionally, All Black jerseys had a white collar, but this was jettisoned under a sponsorship deal in 1999, when adidas took over the apparel contact from Canterbury Clothing. The white collar was resurrected for the 2011 Rugby World Cup, but has since been ditched.

George Nepia, 1924.
George Nepia, 1924.

5. The adidas deal is commercially sensitive, but is believed to be worth about $20 million a year. The contract was due to expire in 2011, but was renewed a further eight years.

6. United States insurance company AIG begin sponsoring the All Blacks in 2012, and their logo placement on the front of the jersey raised some hackles.

Colin Meads, 1968. Photo / Herald Archives
Colin Meads, 1968. Photo / Herald Archives

7. Jerseys have also been tightened over the years, most notably in 2007, and have occasionally ripped spectacularly. Sonny Bill Williams caused a stir among fans when he removed his torn jersey during a match against Tonga in 2011, and Dan Carter's jersey was also ripped on debut.

8. The 2014 jersey was dubbed the "blackest yet" after logos appeared in gun-metal grey instead of white. The most contentious adidas creation was the grey jersey the All Blacks wore in their 2007 Rugby World Cup quarter-final loss to France.

Stu Wilson, 1980's.
Stu Wilson, 1980's.

9. The first New Zealand representative rugby team wore the dark blue jersey of Otago, with a gold fern over the heart, when they toured New South Wales in 1884. The colour of the jersey is believed to have been influenced by the side's manager, Sam Sleigh, one of the founders of the Otago union two years before.

10. The Native team were the first representative side to wear a black jersey with the silver fern. The team toured the British Isles and Australia for a year between 1888 and 1889. Their name was a nod to the fact 24 of the 26 players were New Zealand-born.

Wayne Shelford, 1989.
Wayne Shelford, 1989.

11. The Originals' jersey for their barnstorming British Isles tour in 1905 was made by the Manawatu Knitting Mills in Palmerston North, with the original patterns still believed to be in the city.

12. Each All Black today is given two jerseys per test, often changing their strip at halftime if the original is wet.

Todd Blackadder, 2000. Photo / Kenny Rodger
Todd Blackadder, 2000. Photo / Kenny Rodger

13. The All Blacks also had a special one-off pink training jersey, complete with a black fern and collar, when they trained in Paris before a 2006 test.

14. In 1970 Singapore-born Australian James Hendrie wore the All Black jersey, despite not being a New Zealander and at that stage having never visited our shores. The then 19-year-old University of Western Australia club player answered an SOS for the All Blacks' clash against an ARU President' s XV in Perth, due to Sid Going's stance of not playing on a Sunday.

15. In contrast, former Waikato lock Hud Rickit played two tests for the All Blacks in 1981, but never wore the famous black jersey. His two games for the national team were at home against Scotland, where the All Blacks wore white.

Richie McCaw, 2011. Photo / Dean Purcell
Richie McCaw, 2011. Photo / Dean Purcell

- NZ Herald

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