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News > Archives & History > The Green Jersey

The Green Jersey

The history behind the green jersey that is currently worn by South Africa's national rugby side
This is the 1896 SA Side that played at Newlands on 5 September 1896, with Heatlie the Captain.
This is the 1896 SA Side that played at Newlands on 5 September 1896, with Heatlie the Captain.

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OD Rugby Club

A transcript of a speech delivered by Paul Murray in the Heatlie Pavilion ahead of the annual Bishops v. St Andrew’s encounter on 4 August 2022 (the match, the following day). 

Ahead of the classic, historic annual encounter between the Bishops 1st XV and St Andrew’s College, Makhanda, (this year at home on Friday 05 August 2022), Paul Murray the school historian gave an outline of the history behind the green jersey that is currently worn by South Africa’s national rugby side.  The event was attended by the Principal Mr Tony Reeler, Bishops’ 15th Principal, Father Monwabisi Peter, the School Chaplain, the players and their parents, and the rugby staff and guests.

On the left: Father Monwabisi Peter the School Chaplain blesses the players’ jerseys at the capping ceremony on Thursday 04 August held in the Heatlie Pavilion, ahead of the Bishops - St Andrew's match on Friday 5 August 2022. On the right: The jerseys being made for the match against St Andrew's.

It had been decided that for the current year, instead of the normal white jerseys worn when we play St Andrew’s at home, the Bishops First XV would wear the myrtle green which was the jersey that Barry Heatlie and his team wore in 1896 when he captained the country’s national rugby side at Newlands; also, there is a connection between the school’s rugby side, then, and the national side of that year (1896) which is to be explained. 

To start, Paul explained that it was Canon George Ogilvie who in the year of his arrival (1861) as Bishop’s third Principal, introduced the ‘passing code’ of the game to Bishops known as ‘Gog’s Ball’ [the three letters of his name – initial G and OG(ilvie) gave rise to the name 'Gog'].  Whilst Paul was addressing the gathering, the players and audience (parents and staff) were asked to look from the Pavilion across the fields which is where the passing/handling/running code of rugby began, which is why the logo on the practice T-shirts worn by Bishop’s rugby players reads: ‘running rugby since 1861’, marking the style of rugby that Bishops play to this day. Ogilvie introduced the game as he knew it then, as a hybrid of his own experiences playing the game at his school Winchester, Oxford his place of higher education and Bradfield where he taught in the UK before going to St George’s in Buenos Aires followed by his tenure as Head of St George’s in Mowbray Cape Town and then as the Principal of Bishops (1861).  It is speculated that Bishops and their rival, the South African College (SAC) might already have played rugby in 1861; after all, they were playing cricket well before that date!  There were some rugby football games played in 1862 (160 years ago) between the Military and Civilians where the latter was made up of Bishops and SAC players included John X Merriman (OD) later to be the Prime Minister of the Cape Colony.

Initially, the college players did not have specific togs and consequently played in their own shirts and trousers.  As the kit was being damaged, so they needed something more durable.  It was the general belief that the first team jersey was planned as a tribute to Oxford and Cambridge Blues, although there is another possibility which is explained by the fact that in 1882, someone found a blue sailor's jersey that could be bought from a shipping firm in Cape Town; a durable material used by working sailors, blue in colour.  Whilst the jerseys were hard wearing, they subsequently proved unsuitable for rugby because they were scratchy.  Eventually, the mitre was added in 1886 after the arrival of the fourth Bishops Principal, The Reverend John Sedgwick who had brought his own colours to the College, from St Edmunds, Oxford.  Ten years later, blue jerseys were ordered from England which by default arrived with light blue collars.  These are still the First XV colours.

When the OD Rugby club was founded in 1895, they needed colours and so the Myrtle green was decided upon by the wife of Barrie Heatlie.  Heatlie completed his schooling at Bishops in 1894 and after that became instrumentally involved in the establishment of the club.  It is speculated that the reason for deciding on this colour, is that green dye was readily available – hence, the birth of the South African Springbok side’s myrtle green rugby jersey (as will be explained).  Heatlie was now coaching Bishops as an OD (1895). The side won the Anderson Cup in that year, with two future SA players from Bishops, Percy Twentyman Jones (eventually Springbok No 30) and Biddy Anderson (Springbok No 31) in the team.  Then in 1896 Barry Heatlie was selected to captain the national senior South Africa XV in the series against the British Isles playing in South Africa, and quite astoundingly two students then still at Bishops, Biddy Anderson and Twentyman Jones, were both selected to play in the 1986 national side.  It is a remarkable story.  It's as if two of our current 1st XV Team members playing for their school at that age (18/19) are then called up to the national team, to wear the green (today, gold as well).  Paul said this another way: 'Just imagine if two of you playing for Bishops today representing the first side, were called up to go and play for SA at Newlands tomorrow!  Yes, in the Heatlie Myrtle Green, as Bishops Boys!'  That was also the first time (1896) Bishops played St. Andrew’s … now 126 years later, the Bishops team tomorrow, will be wearing the same colour that Bishops players wore in the 1896 Heatlie side against the British Isles!

In this remarkable photograph we see the two students from Bishops who played for their school's 1st side - who then also played for SA in the same year!  They played at Newlands in the Heatlie myrtle green.  They are Anderson and Jones seated next to each other.  The name Jones is actuall Twentyman Jones (from Stanmore).

In the first year of the OD RFC (1896) playing in the Heatlie green, only one game was played and that was against SAC (subsequently SACS) in the Grand Challenge. They were scratched from the league due to insufficient players. Which meant that they were forced to pool their resources and play together with the college. They then fielded a team when the OD RFC combined with the Bishops first XV and played in the Green jersey against SAC. They won the game 10 – 0. Furthermore in 1896 the British Isles are touring South Africa and SA have lost all three tests in a row with the final test set for Newlands on 5 Sept 1896; this is when Heatlie is chosen as the captain, and he uses the Green Jersey for the SA side and they win 5-0. As already mentioned, two Bishops College students are also in the 1896 side with Heatlie.  This match makes history as it is their first ever test match win for SA in the series - played 7, lost 6, won 1.  In 1897 we see again, Heatlie, Anderson and Jones playing together in the OD side (see the photograph below), in the Heatlie green!  In 1898, the Bishops OD RFC could not field a side and amalgamated with Bishops Diocesan College and played in green as a team and this was the last time the green jerseys were used to play in formal competitive league rugby. In 1899, the College assumed all the rugby fixtures for the year. When Bishops came from Feldhausen in 1902, they took up residence in the newly built School House and the from U16 down played in White Rugby Jerseys the 'colour' from St Saviour’s Claremont (which merged with Bishops at Feldhausen in 1886).

In this photograph we see Barrie Heatlie, Biddy Anderson and Percy Jones (Twentyman Jones) playing in the Heatlie Myrtle green in 1897 in the OD side.

In 1903 the British Isles side once again toured SA and played two tests and both were drawn matches: 10-all in Johannesburg and 0-all in Kimberley - with the final test set for Newlands on 12 Sept 1903, and the series up for grabs; once again Heatlie (then captaining the Villagers 1st Team) is chosen as the SA Captain; again he uses the same Heatlie Bishops Green Jersey, that has been in storage for 3/4 years - SA win the game 8-0.  This is only the 2nd time that SA have ever won a test and their first ever test series win for the SA - all this in the lucky green jersey. 

In 1910 it was decided that only the Bishops First XV side would play in the blue jersey and light blue collar and the rest of the teams would play in white. This was the same year that the university classes at Bishops ended, and from then on, no longer did they play in the senior first league, but just in the schools’ league.   

Some other snippets of Bishops rugby:

The first recorded result against SACS was the 1862 game and thereafter the records are not available until 1873.   In 1887 the matches against SACS were cancelled due to their ‘Fancy Fair’. 

Bishops started playing other schools as follows:

  • St Andrew’s 1896 - 126 yrs 
  • Rondebosch 1911 - 111 yrs 
  • Stellenbosch BHS 1911 - became known as Paul Roos in 1950
  • Wynberg 1920 - 102 yrs 
  • Kingswood 1921 - 101 yrs 
  • Paarl Boys 1929 - 93 yrs 
  • Paarl Gym 1929 - 93 yrs 

In 1957 several matches ceased as precaution against polio when the flu epidemic struck in mid-August of that year. 

The only times that the Bishops Diocesan College first team have played in alternative colours jerseys are:

  • 1962 - white for the first time against Rondebosch and subsequently against Rondebosch and St Andrew’s over the years – like we would have done against St Andrew’s this year (2022). 
  • 1975 - the Bishops first team combined as a Bishops/Rondebosch team playing in Dark Blue jerseys against a combined team of Plumstead/Wynberg/Fish Hoek who played in white.
  • 1987 - Bishops played Rondebosch in the Ogilvie Rugby jerseys colours in honour of Mr Alan Douglas, a long-standing legendary 1st team rugby coach and head of Ogilvie, who was retiring. His nickname was ‘ODD JOB’ and it is the father of Jordi Nolte and you will still see him at some of the rugby games at the Piley.
  • 2022 - and then history will be made again tomorrow (Fri 05 August 2022) when the Bishops First XV side play in the Heatlie myrtle green.

Before my conclusion I would like to acknowledge the following:

The late Paul Dobson and his Rugby history of the school (Paul Dobson, Bishops Rugby, a History, Don Nelson Publishers, 1990);  David McLennan (OD) and others that assisted in the research and foremost Jill and Ryan Sherwood, the Captains parents for initiating the evening; Mr Richard Horton, parent and rugby enthusiast who energetically assisted and was inspirational to put this talk together.

So, here is to ‘The Myth’, Barry Heatlie; Nick names:  Fairy / Ox; Height: 1.90 m; Weight: 94

kg; Springbok number: 22 – the legendary Maverick of South African Rugby who came to his

school as a farmer from Worcester and learn’t his rugby on these hallowed grounds. This is an

extraordinary story of our own OD directly influencing our National Rugby side to this day …

and that you by donning these colours in your match tomorrow against your traditional rival in

the first encounter from way back in 1896, can be part of this unique journey.  As the last time

the green jersey was worn by a student from Bishops was in 1896 and then these same jerseys

were worn by the 1903 Springboks – now you!

Before finally concluding I would like to show you a copy of the photograph of the original 1896 SA international side that played the British Isles at Newlands - do you notice anything that makes this photograph unique and extraordinary? Correct: Heatlie ran out captaining the SA side to conquer the mighty unbeaten British Isles team wearing a Bishops Myrtle Green Rugby jersey adorned with a Mitre on his heart. 

This is the 1896 SA Side that played at Newlands on 5 September 1896, with Heatlie the Captain (seated in the middle wearing the Bishops Mitre!).  Seated right in front on the far left side is Biddy Anderson, then still at Bishops; and seated to Heatlie’s right is Percy Twentyman Jones also then still at Bishops.

 

What an honour to celebrate the legacy of the green jersey.  Wear them with pride YOUNG MEN OF BISHOPS!

(Transcript ends here.  With thanks to Dr Murray)

The Bishops First XV after their victory against St Andrews on the Piley on Fri 5 Aug 2022.  Bishops won 31-22.

To view the game on YouTube, click on the link below:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eM2jh_WOjY4

 

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