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 approach taken by football clubs – where a player has their name and an assigned shirt number – in favor 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.