One of the most surprising and significant pieces of rugby shirt news this year (before you say it, yes, we know that rugby shirt news is by its very nature entirely insignificant, shut up) was the revelation that one of the most long-standing kit partnerships in rugby union was coming to an end. After 23 years, Nike had signalled their intention to gradually pull out of rugby, and as such, they wouldn’t seek to renew their deal with Stade Toulousain, and the contract would be taken up by Aussie noise-makers BLK.
Over the last two decades, Nike’s designers have ensured that Toulouse have rarely looked anything less than the European superpower they have been on the field. Kits have generally been subtle, classy and wonderfully stylish, surely a relative newcomer such as BLK couldn’t keep up such a high standard?
Well… that’s bullshit, clearly. BLK might be fairly new on the scene, but they’re expanding at a rate of knots, and the Toulouse gig is without a doubt the most significant bit of Northern Hemisphere business to date. They couldn’t afford to mess this up, and we can safely say they’ve knocked it out of the park.
The home shirt is an exercise in restraint and simplicity. It’s the same template that we saw used for the Sharks jerseys this season, but it’s even more simple and understated. Gone are the carbon-fibre effect stripes, replaced with a deep, matte black, with the subtle red piping giving a nice splash of colour that really enhances the design. The only break from plain black on the front is the subtly sublimated ‘ST’ logo on the bottom right of the jersey. Some might argue it’s a little bit boring and monotone, but frankly, that’s like saying the Mona Lisa could really do with a bit of glitter sprinkled on it to make it pop…
The away shirt keeps things simple and pretty classy, though there’s a bit more going on here than with the home shirt. The addition of the white around the collar and the slightly more visible sublimated ‘ST’ logo on the bottom left-hand corner of the shirt lifts things above the stark simplicity of the home design.
We’re not sure it works quite as well as the home shirt – we’re not fussed on the white collar – it looks a little bit out of place. What’s more, there’s something about the black piping on the red shirt that just doesn’t quite work as well as the reverse does on the home shirt. It’s still a pretty nice shirt, though.
One little thing on all three shirts that made us smile is the presence of the legend ‘BLK & Rouge’ running around the inside of the collar of all three jerseys. It’s a playful little play on the club’s ‘Noir et Rouge’ nickname, and a nice way for BLK to signal their commitment to their new marquee partner.
The third shirt, on the other hand, might well be the best of the trio, and one of the nicest shirts we’ve seen so far this season. The double-striped thing has been a bit of a feature on Toulouse third shirts in recent years, but we love the way it’s been implemented here.
We love the vertical central double stripes here – it works really well with the centrally-placed BLK logo, giving the shirt a striking, but still simple look. We also really, really like the way the cuffs on each sleeve are the colour of the corresponding stripe. It’s such a subtle little detail, but it shows how much thought has gone into this design.
BLK couldn’t afford to mess these shirts up, but they’ve done far more than that. While their designs have been hit and miss at times over the first season or so since the full rebrand from KooGa, these Toulouse designs show that the Australian firm has a great set of designers, and certainly doesn’t suffer from the common curse of ‘new’ brands of trying to overcomplicate things in an effort to get noticed.
After 23 years with Nike, BLK had a tough act to follow, but while Toulouse might be not quite the all-conquering superpower they once were on the field, they’ll certainly be looking damn sharp while they do.
SHIT/GOOD RATING: GOOD