Highlanders 'have no tradition' - Clark

The Highlanders' new playing strip is not an insult to past teams, as the side does not have a tradition, the Highlanders boss says.

Highlanders general manager Roger Clark said the new strip was a part of the change throughout the franchise which had to happen as it was both "broke and broken" at the end of last season.

The Highlanders announced yesterday they would be wearing a new playing strip on Friday night in their last game at Carisbrook, and would make a permanent change to the strip next year. They would wear their usual playing strip for the two final games of the year, both away from home.

The new strip will not be seen by the public until the side runs out on Friday night.

Although Mr Clark declined to say what colour the strip is, the Otago Daily Times believes it is a light green with flashes of dark blue on the jersey.

Mr Clark said to attract fans and continue the impetus of change, research had shown a new jersey would be an appropriate move.

"We needed to change everything and that includes the jersey. We are really conscious we are going into a new stadium next year and we want to help showcase it to the world," he said.

"We want to signal that we are changing right across the board.

"If we wanted to grow the fan base then we had to engage with the whole region."

Mr Clark said a group of people had talked about the colour of the jersey and that included head coach Jamie Joseph.

He said when he became involved in the franchise in May last year the franchise was both broke and broken.

"It had to be rebuilt. And we had to make some changes. If we had not made the changes and showed the players that we did have these fresh ideas, then they would have gone."

The franchise had lost $1.25 million over the past four years and other regions were hovering to take the franchise north.

"We are on our last legs and we are still battling. But the plan is working on the field and exceeding it, actually."

"A year ago, we were gone. The fans were not coming and the franchise was just not viable."

But many see the new jersey as an insult to the three stake-holder unions in the franchise: North Otago, Otago and Southland.

But Mr Clark said it was about establishing an identity for the Highlanders.

"Tradition is not about 16 years. Tradition is about 127 years of provincial unions and the blue and gold of Otago, the maroon of Southland and the purple and gold of North Otago. But we need our own identity to revitalise the Highlanders. We have history, but not tradition.

"I'm not surprised about the concern about the change. We're a pretty conservative lot down here. But does it faze us?

"No, we're still prepared to push on with the changes ...

"If we didn't make those changes then we were going out the back door fast."

The Highlanders have hired new coaches, a new management team, and moved to new offices in the past 10 months. The link between Otago and the Highlanders was split last year. The Highlanders are due to move into Forsyth Barr Stadium at the end of the year.

The Highlanders jersey has always been based around the three main colours of the three provincial unions and although the jersey design has changed over the years, it has always had those base colours.

Mr Clark said ideally the franchise would have liked to have introduced the colours this season, but time was against it.

Joseph said the new jersey was an extremely important and exciting step in the development of the Highlanders into a truly regional team.

"We currently have a group of men from all over this country that are extremely proud to represent this region and we will all happily champion these colours as our own," he said.

The new strip has yet to arrive in Dunedin and cameras will be banned in the changing room before the game on Friday night.

The New Zealand Rugby Union is fully supportive of the new jersey.

Sponsors were informed of the changes over the past few days.




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