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England shirt 'a mark of respect'

The Victoria Cross and George Cross Association has given its backing to a controversial new England kit that incorporates the Victoria Cross emblem within its design.

The Rugby Football Union apologised on Wednesday "to those who may have taken offence" over new Canterbury-manufactured shirts - the traditional white jersey and a crimson alternate shirt - featuring Victoria Cross motifs that comprise numerous small rubber grips to help deaden the impact of the ball.

Victoria Cross Trust chairman Gary Stapleton criticised the RFU for having had no contact with the organisation over using the emblem, claiming it had "touched a raw nerve with a lot of people".

The Victoria Cross, the British and Commonwealth armed forces' most prestigious medal, has only been awarded 1,354 times during its 158-year existence, most recently in 2012.

The new white shirt will be worn for the first time when England kick off their autumn Test schedule by hosting world champions New Zealand at Twickenham on November 8.

But the Victoria Cross and George Cross Association, which was established 52 years ago, has now issued a statement saying it is "pleased" that the motif has been used.

"Although the Association was not previously aware of the RFU's decision to incorporate the motif, following discussions between the Association and the RFU (and taking account of the statement issued by the RFU) it is clear that the RFU did not intend to cause any offence," Association chairman-elect Major Peter Norton GC said, in the statement.

"Strong links have always existed between the game of rugby and the military.

"The RFU's core values of teamwork, respect, enjoyment, discipline and sportsmanship sit well with the military's core values of loyalty, integrity, courage, discipline, respect and selfless commitment.

"Given that we, as a nation, are now commemorating the centenary of the First World War, and the sacrifices made by so many during that period, the Association feels that the RFU's decision to incorporate a Victoria Cross-inspired motif within the design of the new England shirt is a subtle, and fitting, mark of respect for those who went above and beyond.

"We wish to thank the RFU for this, and for their continued support for the Armed Forces, past, present and future."

Speaking earlier this week for the Victoria Cross Trust, which is not affiliated to the VC and GC Association, Stapleton said: "Using that symbol, you have got to look at it in what context.

"In the context that they (RFU) are making money off the selling of the shirts, that's highly inappropriate.

"If, for example, they were publicly stating they were supporting the work of the Victoria Cross Trust and to recognise the bravery of the men that they were going to place the symbol on their shirts for the season and a percentage of the sale of the shirts would go to the Trust, that would be appropriate.

"To that end, I don't think anyone would have had an issue with it."

England head coach Stuart Lancaster, meanwhile, has drawn heavily on England's rich rugby history to instil a stronger sense of national pride throughout his tenure as head coach.

Lancaster created the Arthur Harrison Award, where England coaches select a winner after every match for the player producing the best defensive performance.

Harrison is England's only rugby international to be awarded the Victoria Cross, bestowed posthumously after he lost his life in the Zeebrugge raid of April 1918 in the First World War.

England Sevens, meanwhile, launched shirts earlier this year bearing crosses inspired by the George Cross military medal.

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