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RUGBY

All Blacks, Springboks, Pumas...where do the rugby team names come from?

Sports teams boast distinct nicknames steeped in their rich history and unique identities. In this article, we explore the origins of some of these monikers within the realm of rugby.

Update:
Sports teams boast distinct nicknames steeped in their rich history and unique identities. In this article, we explore the origins of some of these monikers within the realm of rugby.
SEBASTIEN BOZONAFP

In rugby, there are nearly as many nicknames as there are teams, such as the All Blacks, Pumas, Wallabies, and Springboks. The tradition of assigning nicknames to national teams based on their emblems, historical significance, or their country’s identity runs deep. In the northern hemisphere, teams typically adopt the formula “the XV of...” followed by the emblem displayed on their shield. Conversely, in the southern hemisphere, nicknames often directly reference the team’s attire, as seen with the All Blacks, or animals native to their respective countries, like the Pumas.

Related: Why do the All Blacks do the haka? Origin and history of the Māori dance

Let’s delve into the origins of some of the most renowned rugby team nicknames:

  • All Blacks: This name stems from New Zealand’s black attire, symbolizing “all in black.” Some accounts suggest that a French journalist coined the term “All Backs” due to their superb oval ball skills, which was later misinterpreted as “All Blacks” because of their black jerseys. The color black signifies their dominance, backed by a remarkable track record in rugby history.
  • The Red Roses: This nickname represents the English team, characterized by their white uniforms adorned with a red rose emblem. The red rose traces its origins to the Lancasters, a British royal house victorious in the Wars of the Roses.
  • The Wallabies: Australia’s national rugby team is named after the wallaby, a smaller marsupial compared to kangaroos. Their logo features a wallaby carrying an oval ball. The Wallabies have won the Rugby World Cup twice (in 1991 and 1999).
  • The Irish Wolfhounds: The Irish national team embraces the shamrock, Ireland’s national plant and a symbol of good luck. It unites the entire island, regardless of religious divisions, when playing rugby.
  • The Springboks: These are the South African rugby players, named after the springbok, a swift gazelle native to southern Africa. Initially associated with apartheid, their triumph in the 1995 World Cup played a significant role in reconciling the nation.
  • XV de France/Les Bleus: The French team is represented by a golden rooster on a red background. Legend has it that the English nicknamed them in the Middle Ages, drawing parallels between the French word “gallus” (rooster) and “gaulois” (Gaul), highlighting both pride and self-love.
  • The Pumas: Argentina’s rugby team is nicknamed the Pumas, inspired by the Patagonian feline. Interestingly, their emblem features a jaguar due to a historical mix-up with a South African journalist. The Jaguares is another team using this emblem.
  • The Thistle: Scotland’s team proudly displays the thistle, adopted as the national flower since the 11th century when it helped thwart a Viking surprise attack.
  • XV of the Leek or The Dragons: Wales, often referred to as the XV of the Dragon, features a leek on their emblem. This symbolizes the three ostrich feathers granted by Edward III to his son, the Prince of Wales, after the battle of Crécy.
  • The Azzurri: Italy’s rugby team is known as the Azzurri, referring to the blue color of their kits, known as the Azzurra.
  • The Lions: The Spanish National Team, the XV of the Lion, bears the symbol of the lion on their chest, representing strength and dominance, and is deeply rooted in Spanish culture and history. 

Beyond these well-known teams, there are other lesser-known teams with unique nicknames, such as the Oaks of Romania, the Lelos of Georgia, the Uruguayan Teros, and the Flying Fijians, each with its own intriguing backstory.

The Japanese team, known as the Cherry Blossoms, derives its name from the sacred plant in Shinto religion, closely tied to Japanese Samurai culture.