Welsh rugby and changing autumn colours: do Wales always play badly in their change kit?

It’s not really autumn in Wales unless the national rugby team splutters to a narrow win/draw/loss to a supposed ‘Tier Two’ nation in Cardiff. Sunday’s ugly win over a Fiji side that had a red card after 25 minutes (and picked up a further two yellows) was, well, a fairly typical autumn rugby day for Wales.

Credit: WRU

It wasn’t unnoticed by supporters that Wales scraped home not in their famous scarlet, but in the black and green of commercial compromise. Wales’s kit manufacturer Macron has a jersey to sell and if there is no clash with a team in red on the autumn fixture list, it matters not. The change kit must be given an outing.

Generally, Wales pick the ‘lesser’ nation of the autumn fixture list to wear their alternate/change kit. It’s worth remembering that before the European Cup changed things for the worse, rugby traditionally has not had away kits. For most of rugby’s history it was the duty of the host team to change for the visitors. For that reason we will use the term ‘change kit’, not ‘away kit’ in this article.

There’s a widespread assumption Wales always struggle in the autumn in their change kits. So, we thought we’d take a look at the archives and see if this adds up.

By the way, if you consider yourself a kit nerd, consider buying East Terrace editor James Stafford’s An Illustrated History of Welsh Rugby: Fun, Facts and Stories from 140 Years of International Rugby, it contains illustrations of every Welsh jersey from 1881 to 2020.

Art by Anne Cakebread from ‘An Illustrated History of Welsh Rugby’ by James Stafford

Autumn 1987: Wales 46 USA 0
Kit: Green (unmarked, likely Umbro)

This was only the second time Wales wore a change shirt in a Test match and the first time at home. Coming off the back of a third-place finish in the 1987 World Cup, replacement and debutant Tony Clement had a stormer. In those days a replacement scoring (there were no substitutions then) was big news. It was also the first time since 1931 a Welsh player had bagged a double on his debut.

Credit: classicrugbyshirts.com

Change shirt/bad performance? No

Autumn 1993: Game #1
Wales 55 Japan 5
Kit: Green, Cotton Traders

This was the first time Wales wore green during the Cotton Traders era. Interestingly (or not), the replica shirt included the infamous Cotton Traders dragon logo on the sleeve, but the match jerseys did not.

VINTAGE WALES COTTON Traders Rugby Shirt Size Large - £3.20 | PicClick UK

Wales strolled home, with captain Ieuan Evans scoring in the first minute. He added three more.

Change shirt/bad performance? No

Autumn 1993: Game #2
Wales 24 Canada 26
Kit: Green, Cotton Traders

We are still not ready to talk about this game yet. Give us time.

Change shirt/bad performance? Yes

Autumn 1997: Wales 46 Tonga 12
Kit: Ecru, Reebok*

The East Terrace cares not for the poor taste of the world at large, this is Wales’s greatest ever change shirt. Ecru, which comes from the French for raw or unbleached, was a bit of a Reebok thing back then, with Liverpool FC sporting an ecru shirt around this time too. This was also Wales’s first non-green change shirt.

The shirt was better than the match, the first in Swansea’s St. Helen’s since 1954. It didn’t even sell out. It was flanker Gwyn Jones’s penultimate match for Wales as captain. In December he was to suffer a horrific neck injury which ended his career.

Credit: classicrugbyshirts.com

*Wales did wear ecru against the USA in 1996, but the game was played in January, so we’ve not listed it here.

Change shirt/bad performance? No

Autumn 1998: No change kits worn

Autumn 1999: No autumn games as World Cup year

Autumn 2000: Wales 42 USA 11
Kit: Black, Reebok

Credit: classicrugbyshirts.com

This was a deeply unimpressive, if not quite horrific display, from Wales. The Welsh line-out in particular was a shambles and it was only 18-8 to the home side after 54 minutes until fly-half Arwel Thomas scored an individualist try which took Wales clear.

Change shirt/bad performance? Yes

Autumn 2001: Wales 51 Tonga 7
Kit: Black, Reebok

Graham Henry’s men picked up their only win of an autumn campaign that saw losses to Argentina (their first ever) and Australia. The defeats came on the back of a hammering from Ireland in October in a Six Nations match that was a hangover game from a foot and mouth impacted tournament.

The game would be Henry’s final Welsh win.

Change shirt/bad performance? No

Autumn 2002: Wales 32 Canada 21
Kit: Black (Rockport), Reebok

This was Scott Quinnell’s final game for Wales. It was, sadly, a grim match in front of a less than half full stadium. Canada hung on until the final quarter.

Credit: Depop

Change shirt/bad performance? Yes

Autumn 2003: No autumn games as World Cup year

Autumn 2004: Game #1
Wales 66 Romania 7
Kit: White, Reebok

Even the ‘curse’ of the change kit couldn’t help a hapless Romania. This was the first time Wales wore a change kit in an autumn game when it was not needed for kit clash reasons. Tom Shanklin bagged four of Wales’s 10 tries.

Change shirt/bad performance? No

Autumn 2004: Game #2
Wales 98 Japan 0
Kit: White, Reebok

Wales grabbed 14 tries and Gavin Henson converted every single one of them.

Change shirt/bad performance? No

Autumn 2005: Game #1
Wales 11 Fiji 10
Kit: Black (125th anniversary shirt), Reebok

Fiji looked set for a famous win until Nicky Robinson kicked a drop goal to save Mike Ruddock and Wales from humiliation with just four minutes remaining.

Credit: Footballholics.com

Wales wore a black shirt to mark the WRU’s 125th anniversary. The colour was meant to be a tribute to the South Wales Football team, the forerunners of the national team who wore a black shirt with a white leek.

Change shirt/bad performance? Yes

Autumn 2005: Game #2
Wales 24 Australia 22
Kit: Black (125th anniversary shirt), Reebok

Wales had never worn a change kit against a Tier One nation before. Nonetheless, they beat Australia for the first time since 1987.

A classic Shane Williams try sealed the deal and sent Cardiff wild.

Change shirt/bad performance? No

Autumn 2006: Wales 61 Canada 26
Kit: Grey, Reebok

This game is lucky enough to have one of the greatest ever uploads of all time connected with it:

Wales were not afflicted by the change kit curse and strolled home with nine tries.

Change shirt/bad performance? No

Autumn 2007: Only one autumn game as World Cup year and no change kit

Autumn 2008: Wales 34 Canada 13
Kit: Gold (we say yellow), Under Armour

Arguably the most famous of all alternate Welsh shirts. This yellow, sorry, gold jersey was meant to represent the gold of the Saint David’s cross. The fact that the sponsors of this shirt was Brains SA Gold beer was, of course, utterly unconnected.

This win was described by the BBC as ‘lacklustre’. Which was fair. It was also the debut of Dan Biggar. What a shirt to make a debut in.

The best thing about this yellow jersey was it gave rise to the most popular East Terrace article of all time. One that the WRU saw fit to clarify was a parody: Animal welfare groups outrage at ‘canary’ Welsh jersey.

Change shirt, bad performance? Yes

Autumn 2009: Wales 17 Samoa 13
Kit: Gold (we say yellow), Under Armour

Samoa almost stole a win at the end of another unimpressive Welsh autumn display. The win did mean, however, Wales now led the series between the two nations with four wins to three.

Change shirt/bad performance? Yes

Autumn 2010: Wales 16 Fiji 16
Kit: Blue, Under Armour

Before the launch of the Admiral sponsored kits for 2010, Delme Parfitt’s beloved Roger Lewis (then WRU Group Chief Executive) said that ‘…our jersey is owned by the nation, not just the individuals who wear it out on the pitch at any given time.

For this game Wales wore a blue kit with red and white trim. The Welsh sponsors? Admiral. The corporate colours of Admiral? Red, blue and white.

That’s truly a jersey ‘owned by the nation’, Roger.

‘Woeful’ Wales conceded a late penalty on a dismal night to give Fiji a well deserved draw.

Change shirt/bad performance? Yes

Autumn 2011: No autumn games as World Cup year

Autumn 2012: No change kit worn

Autumn 2013: Wales 17 Tonga 7
Kit: Grey, Under Armour

Both teams wore change kits in an uninspiring match. Wales had made 11 changes after the win over Argentina the previous week.

Change shirt/bad performance? Yes.

Autumn 2014: No change kit worn

Autumn 2015: No autumn games as World Cup year

Autumn 2016: Wales 33 Japan 30
Kit: Grey/charcoal, Under Armour

It took an 80th minute drop goal from replacement Sam Davies to get Wales over the line. Wales, under Robert Howley with Warren Gatland off with the Lions, failed to make the most of superior possession and threw away a sizeable second-half lead.

Change shirt/ bad performance? Yes.

Autumn 2017: Wales 13 Georgia 6
Kit: ‘Anthracite’, Under Armour

Not long after Wales (rightly) fumed about French ‘creativity’ around the scrummage laws in a Six Nations game (and we mean late), Warren Gatland’s Wales got ‘creative’ late on to stop uncontested scrums and save their skin in their first ever meeting with Georgia.

Wales, at this point, would switch up sponsors depending on the kit. This was poetically explained by then WRU chief executive Martyn Phillips: “We took a new and innovative approach to our latest shirt sponsorship negotiations and looked at ways to maximise value for our partners and increase exposure for our teams on a global scale. Switching between Isuzu and Subaru for our home and change kit is an exciting twist on the traditional way of doing things and we expect both jerseys to be extremely popular with supporters around the world.”

Change shirt/bad performance? Yes.

Autumn 2018: Wales 74 Tonga 24
Kit: ‘Anthracite’, Under Armour

No performance issues here as Wales strolled to an easy win.

Change shirt/ bad performance? No.

Autumn 2019: no autumn games as World Cup year

Autumn 2020 (Autumn Nations Cup): Wales 18 Georgia 0
Kit: Green, Macron

This was part of the Autumn Nations Cup. Oddly, both teams wore change kits (Wales in green and Georgia in white). This is not as clear cut as other bad autumn games. Wales were desperate to end a six game losing streak and they were never actually in trouble. They were less than impressive though.

Change shirt/bad performance? Kinda.

Autumn 2021: Wales 38 Fiji 23
Kit: Black, Macron

A week after running the world champions close, a relatively unchanged Welsh team run in a few late scores against an exhausted Fiji team who spent 20 minutes with 13 men (after getting a red card after 25). Even late on it looked like Fiji could pull off a win.

Change shirt/bad performance? Yes.


Wales have worn a change kit on 21 occasions in autumn tests since 1987. The only time they have lost in those games was against Canada (1993) and the only other time they failed to win was against Fiji in 2010.

However, of those 21 games it is fair to say 11 of them were very poor performances, with one other ‘kinda’ ok. That leaves nine games where Wales played well or won comfortably. Therefore, it’s probably fair to say Wales can be considered as playing badly in more than 50% of games they have worn a change kit in the autumn. It’s also worth remembering how poor Wales are in the autumn generally.

Of those 21 games Wales have changed kits on six occasions when there would have been no clash of kits. These games were against:

Fiji – 2 wins and 1 draw
Romania – 1 win
Samoa – 1 win
Australia – 1 win

If you’ve read an article this long about the colour of Wales’s rugby shirts at a particular time of year, it is perhaps fair to ask: have you nothing better to do with your life?

If you would like to support The East Terrace, please consider buying one of the following books from editor James Stafford: 

An Illustrated History of Welsh Rugby: Fun, Facts and Stories from 140 Years of International Rugby (Polaris Publishing)BUY HERE

How Wales Beat the Mighty All Blacks (Y Lolfa)BUY HERE