How close did Wales come to being the Leeks of international rugby?

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The crest on the badge below is from the 1899 Anglo-Australia team although this name is slightly misleading as the team was in fact a British representative side that toured Australia and not the teams combined as the name suggests. But who made up the Anglo- Australian team? Well today we would know them as the British and Irish Lions, a team made up of the best players from the English, Welsh, Scottish and Irish national Rugby teams. Although the name is misleading the badge does represent the team correctly with the symbol from each country intertwined. This article aims to review the history of each of those logos and to determine if the Welsh really were represented by the leek over 100 years ago.

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The first symbol on the crest is the red rose of England. The English Rose was chosen by the Rugby Football Union in 1871, but there is debate about why it was picked. It is likely that, along with the all-white kit, the rose symbol was borrowed from Rugby School, where Lawrence Sherriff, the founder, had based the school’s logo on his own coat of arms that included a red rose, presented to him by Queen Elizabeth I. Another possibility is that the RFU picked it to represent the English monarchy, for which the red rose has been a symbol ever since the end of the Wars of the Roses. Or was it simply due to an influential group of Lancastrians who were present at the time?

Below the rose, to the left of the crest, there is a thistle representing Scotland. There is less debate as to why this is the symbol for the Scottish rugby team. The thistle is also Scotland’s national flower. According to legend Scots were once alerted to the presence of Viking invaders when a bare-foot Northman stepped on a thistle and screamed. Because of this Scotland and eventually their national rugby team selected the thistle as their emblem.

Next to the thistle, on the right of the crest, is a shamrock representing Ireland. The use of the shamrock as the symbol of Ireland and subsequently the symbol of the Irish team is widely understood to be because of St Patrick, Ireland’s patron saint, and has been used since the eighteenth century.

The final logo at the bottom of the badge is a pair of crossed leeks, a national emblem of Wales. Today we know the Welsh Rugby Union’s logo as being the Prince of Wales Feathers. This alternative logo raises the question of how close the Welsh were to having a leek as the symbol of their national rugby team?

The answer in short is not very. The Welsh team have used the Prince of Wales Feathers as their emblem since their first international against England in 1881. It is thought that the Welsh Rugby Union picked the Prince of Wales Feathers over the leek as their symbol in the nineteenth century as a demonstration of loyalty to Britain and her empire.

Therefore it seems that the Welsh were never going to be the ‘leeks of international rugby’ and the use of the leek in this badge was a one off. Which leaves only one question- why did the 1899 Anglo-Australia tour organisers choose the leek?

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About the Author – Holly Parsons graduated from Portsmouth University having studied Heritage and Museum Studies. She has been volunteering at the World Rugby Museum for little over a year and has been part of several research, display and archiving projects. She can be contacted @holly_p9 or http://uk.linkedin.com/pub/holly-parsons/6b/765/951


 

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9 Responses to How close did Wales come to being the Leeks of international rugby?

  1. Holly – hello great article. I gather that the crest is from the blazer pocket.. I have not seen this only the cap which is of a different design. Am I right that the jersey carried no badge? Do you know why the tour cap, which was red/marron and carried a Kangaroo/Wallaby is different to the blazer? Generally cap and blazer are the same…or was that a later adopted convention? Does this cap design hark again to the destination…as is included in the team name Anglo – Australian. Thanks – Michael

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  2. Hi Michael, yes this is the blazer badge and no there doesn’t seem to have been a jersey badge for this tour. I agree that it is unusual for the blazer and cap emblems to be different but that does seem to have been the case with this tour.

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  3. Hello Holly and hello Michael, mate, too! Doubtless the leek because they were picking national emblems rather than purely rugby ones, and all four of these are plants of sorts, with the leek having the ‘Welsh connection’ back to the Bard, Henry V and beyond, and all that… Daffodils may look nicer, but…. Most sports organisations in Wales favour the dragon, but as you say, the WRU have had the Prince of Wales feathers and his German (not Welsh!) motto since the beginning…. Have you an example of the 1899 cap and/or image to share? I’ve been sent one this very day and if you haven’t, will seek permission to share it…. Have you seen one, Mike? Look forward to further links with yourselves on this site, Phil Atkinson, Editor, ‘Touchlines’, Magazine of the Rugby Memorabilia Society.

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  4. Simon says:

    About time it was changed for something trully Welsh. The feathers or Fluer de Leis as it is known its from Northern France. The motto Ich Dien is German for ‘I Serve’. The crown is the fake English prince of Wales.

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  5. I think its time WRU respected that the three feathers are a proud symbol of Bohemia and should give it back. Respect german culture and hand it back

    I like the leek myself..but many may disagree 🙂

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  6. C J Massey says:

    Richard. the 3 feathers, has become synonymous with Wales, all over the world, what would be achieved by using he leek only, I feel they can be shown together, proudly to represent Wales. I respect your views, but personally I’m happy with the status quo

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