Wednesday Jul 6, 2016 The Evolution of Rugby Jerseys over the years

The Evolution of Rugby Jerseys over the years
13
Comments

The modern rugby jersey is a massive technical achievement by the industry. Long gone are the days of clubs scraping together to buy some cotton shirts of the same colour. The shirt you got was often 3 sizes too big for you and you were told you’d grow into it.

Jerseys are now tailor made to the team and players’ individual requirements. We’ve come a long way baby, and we’re not done yet.

But to know where we are going, it’s important to know where we have come from. So let’s take a look at some classic rugby jerseys over the years.

Classic long sleeve cotton jersey

Cheap and hard wearing, these kept you warm on a December night. They would weigh 2 or 3 kg’s heavier in the rain though, and make you lose 2 or 3 kg’s in the summer! A mostly unchanged design since rugby school, the biggest innovation being the introduction of rubber buttons.

Polyester threads

Soccer jerseys? Never! It wasn’t until 2003 that polyester jerseys became mainstream. They were resisted at first by supporters, but players could see the benefits.

Adding water resistance and much reduced weight, they quickly became popular in the professional game.

Grip improvements

With the new polyester materials in jerseys, and the skin tight sizes, it became much harder to tackle players by grabbing the jersey. But it also meant it was much harder to hold on to the ball in the wet and bind onto teammates.

The solution? Adding the same rubber material used on balls to help with grip.

Do I look fat in this?

Unfortunately skin tight jersey aren’t going to suit everyone, so now there are supporter jerseys sold to the public, rather than only awkward looking Test jerseys.

So what does it take to design a new jersey?

The process can take up to 24 months before the jersey is released for sale to the general public. It starts with manufacturers working closely with sponsored teams and players, asking players what they want to see from their kit and asking for their feedback on prototype clothing.

Make no mistake this is not just feedback on style, it’s important that players perform to their best on game day. Performance data is used to see if players are benefiting from new materials and designs incorporated into jerseys, taking into account how performance increases or decreases in different playing conditions.

New materials are always being researched in collaboration between manufacturers, universities and sports science institutes. Developments in other sports are also being closely monitored to see if there are any potential benefits for rugby.

Modern jerseys are now also designed with the individual players and demands of the game in mind. For example, the location of grip strips can be different between forwards and backs to help them in their positional roles.

Changing laws of rugby will also have an effect on how a jersey is developed.

Once a prototype has been developed, it must be tested rigorously before ever being given to a professional to test. Below is a picture of an English jersey being tested for a simulated grab on jersey to ensure it does not rip.

One important aspect of field testing with the professional is to ensure the players are comfortable with the kit before a major tournament. You wouldn’t want to be running a marathon in a new pair of shoes and the same principle applies to rugby jerseys.

So with that in mind, think about the new jerseys for next year’s Lions tour and then for RWC 2019. The players will be using those jerseys in training well before a ball is kicked in anger.

My Old Jerseys

Just for a bit of fun I decided to pull out all the old jerseys I have to see how they have changed through the years.

If you were to open up the drawer containing your jerseys, what would you find? Which jersey was your all-time favourite and which one did you hate the most?

– Stephen Phillips

13 Comments

  •  larry
    larry

    I guess that's one of my questions about polyester. Is it eco-friendly? It's coming from the ground, getting drilled or fracked. Yet cotton takes a lot of water to grow, and I'll tell you one US state where cotton should not be allowed to grow: California, and it is grown, in the southern half of the state in the Central Valley. Like Australia, we are in a long drought, having only a few winters with normal rain in the last decade. I imagine more and more synthetic fabrics are in the works. I'd just like rugby to keep its traditional look. Baseball did it in America, as it went back to a traditional look, with new fabrics.

    Reply
  •  larry
    larry

    Well, like I said, there's no going back. Baseball went though an "ugly" stage of kit, back in the 70's and 80's, when uniforms went polyester from light-weight wool flannel. That's right, if you see any old photos of Willie Mays, Mickey Mantle, Babe Ruth, they're wearing light-weight wool flannel tops and pants. The thing is in the late 80's baseball teams started going back to the traditional look of baseball uniforms, with the poly. So, there's no reason that rugby can't have polyester shirts that look like the old style shirts. One thing that bugs me is the long sleeve under shirts worn. Why not make some long sleeve poly shirts? I think some players did have them back a decade or so ago. And I'd agree with the cotton shorts v poly shorts. I'll tell you one thing about long sleeves: they were nice on a cold day, as it was also nice to stick one's hands in the pockets on that cold day as well, and these new shorts don't have pockets, another issue, but playing as I did in California, we have hard fields for the most part. Sleeves were great to wipe the sweat off one's brow, but they also saved my elbows from carpet burns, as we called them, from hard grounds with dirt patches or dry grass. Only the knees could get scratched up.

    Reply
  •  larry
    larry

    I never had a shirt rip, though I had buttons get ripped off the Canterbury jerseys my old club had, even though I hadn't buttoned the placket. An acrylic shirt I wore was on a tour as a guest of another club, and those shirts really itched. Halbro brand. Those shirts did not fade over the years, but a veterans side I played for much later had Halbro shirts that were cotton, and the colors didn't fade much at all, but there were only a handful of games played each season. If there was one brand in America that lasted years and years, and seemingly never ripped at all, it was the Barbarian brand shirt, but they were very heavyweight, so if it was a warm day, they were hot to wear. A cold dry day, and they were great to wear. I have a few that I wear to referee, and do so on colder days, like when it's under 60F. No logos, not even the referee society logo. They cost $65 plus shipping. Uneek brand is a jersey I've gotten from the UK, Amazon, L14. It's rather light weight, probably not a shirt to wear in a game, but I use it to ref in when it's warmer. I did let a gal borrow it to wear in a varsity-alumni match at the local university at the end of the season a few months back, when the alumni didn't have enough shirts to wear, and since they were wearing white, I let this gal wear it (I always bring at least two jerseys to referee). She was the hooker, and the shirt didn't get ripped.

    Reply
  •  drg
    drg

    Spidey senses are tingling...

    Reply
  •  10stonenumber10
    10stonenumber10

    I think Australia should start making spider silk shirts. Stronger than steel, and eco friendly. + it gives a use for the army of deadly critters hiding in boots/toilet seats/cupboards

    Reply
  •  10stonenumber10
    10stonenumber10

    I would tear a cotton shirt at least every other match. Whole sleeves ripped off, seams split, but that is what happens when you get scragged instead of hit. And it looks totally badass to be ripped out of your shirt Hulk style when breaking a tackle. Hooped shirts worked well, if you got duck tape the same colour as the hoops, a baggy XL could become a slim fit S and much harder to get hold of. Polyester shirts were ovens when first released. Instant sweat. However, they kept their colour, took a few years to make a breathable material hard wearing enough to handle a rugby game. Personally I like the crazy shirts, from a playing perspective they do the job really well. But agreed, there is something "right" about a collared, cuffed, twin rubber buttoned long sleeve.

    Reply
  •  drg
    drg

    I still have cotton shorts... I've remember playing for a team that was pushing polyester shorts, I refused and bought my own cotton in the same colour... It sounds daft, but having someone grab my shorts on our 22m line while I'm standing on the halfway line due to the stretch in the bloody things is ridiculous. Cotton is also better for binding in the scrums... I despise any props that wear stretchy polyester shorts! As for the shirts, I don't mind new material so much - personally, the long sleeve cotton ones never did it for me at school, I'd always have my sleeves rolled up, so I snapped at the chance for a light weight short sleeve top! However, I don't like the collarless shirts that came in when they first went skin tight (like JW is wearing up there^^^)... I prefer a faux collar at the very least.... On the advertising front, I guess rugby is a business now, not a sport... money = better players, better players = more money... etc... one way to increase cash is to stick a bunch of sponsors on all your shirts - or shave them in your hair??!?... I still maintain one of my most favoured shirts in pro rugby was the England centenary shirts that they wore on a couple(? or one?) occasions.. http://i.telegraph.co.uk/multimedia/archive/01961/englandkit4_1961433i.jpg

    Reply
  •  drg
    drg

    Interesting, what happens if one got torn to pieces? I mean assume it will be the obvious that it's just "tough shit, borrow someone elses", but really?

    Reply
  •  larry
    larry

    I had to do that myself a few times. I joined my college club side a few weeks after the season started, as a freshman, and therefore I didn't get a jersey, as they were all sold out, and had to borrow one for the rest of the season, usually from a second team player. There weren't team sets, so players paid up front for a jersey to keep when the season started in November. The second ever game I played in it was rainy and muddy, and I had to put on this soggy and mud-caked shirt. I couldn't agree with you more about the ads, and visually the old shirts just looked better. Somehow I can't imagine Gareth Edwards scoring that try wearing what they wear nowadays.

    Reply
  •  larry
    larry

    Does it help, with global warming an issue, to use an oil-based product, polyester, to make rugby kit? I don't like it. Sure, the jerseys are lighter and all that, but I played in cotton, and half cotton/poly shirts for years and year, the old long sleeve type, and had no problems. And it's true that those shirts were something to keep and treasure afterwards, and I have three in shadow boxes on display in my office at home. The shorts were cotton too, and even shorts are artificial now. I use the old-fashioned kit when refereeing, even going so far as to ordering some from UK Amazon, as American-made old-style rugby shirts are very expensive. If it's warm, there are lighter-weight cotton shirts, and cold, the heavier weight. But once there's a change there's no turning back. So, at least some of these new shirts have proper collars, or at least a facsimile thereof. Some even are solid color or have proper hoops. If that's a new Ireland shirt displayed above, good on them! The worst are the ones that have leopard spots, lightning bolts, paisley prints, you name it, anything that says stupid, and just some round or v neck collar, looking much more like a soccer shirt. Here's another thing: these shirts, despite claim that they do, DO NOT BREATHE! I've tried wearing one to ref in, and after a few minutes I was hot, sweaty, and also itchy. I did play for a club way back when that had acrylic jerseys, and that's exactly what this polyester shirt felt like. I never used it again, and in fact changed back to a cotton jersey after that short spell of warming up before a match. Lastly all those ads are just ridiculous. Even third division club sides have huge sponsor's ads on their shirts here in America. For all the bashing American professional sports get for the money those players receive, at least in the big three sports of baseball, American football, and basketball, there are NO ADVERTISEMENTS on the jerseys, and hopefully there never will be.

    Reply
  •  ando
    ando

    I don't miss running around for 80 minutes in a heavy, wet, long-sleeved cotton jersey!

    Reply
  •  finedisregard
    finedisregard

    Sometime around when rugby jerseys went from natural fibers to synthetic is when rugby lost it's soul. Even worse are all these ads on jerseys make rugby look like NASCAR. One of the all time worst feelings in rugby: putting on a soggy sopping wet cotton jersey that someone played in before you for a lower grade game!

    Reply
  •  10stonenumber10
    10stonenumber10

    Anybody remember the Italy Wetsuits? 8mm thick padding more like a bulletproof vest than a shirt

    Reply

Great Tries

View All

Big Hits & Dirty Play

View All

See It To Believe It

View All

Funnies

View All

Training Videos

View All

Player Features

View All
The Evolution of Rugby Jerseys over the years | RugbyDump