The launch of a new England shirt is, by the standards of our tiny little corner of the rugby world, A Very Big Deal. Indeed, given that the RFU pocketed £5.4 million quid from merch sales in 2013 alone, getting the England shirt right is a pretty important job for the bods at Canterbury and the RFU. Today we’ve got not one, but two new England shirts to get our heads around, so let’s dive in.
Last year’s England shirt was a bit of an opinion-splitter, though we never really understood why. Some people were extremely miffed by the black/midnight blue/whatever sleeve cuffs, and saw it as a symptom of Canterbury being unable to just leave the basic template of a plain white shirt with a red rose on it alone.
This year’s effort, then should please those particular brand of moany bastards, as the black is gone and we have a very classic, classy looking shirt. We’ve seen a few grumbles about the one big change with this year’s design, the moving of the badge to the middle of the jersey – first seen on the new Leicester Tigers shirts from Canterbury this year, of course – but we think it looks pretty cool. It’s a break from the norm and sets this apart from previous England shirts. Also, while it’s the first time we’ve seen the badge at the centre of things on a XVs shirt, you’ll perhaps remember that the current England Sevens shirt also has the badge in the middle of the chest.
Another thing that’s been borrowed from the Sevens shirt is the cross motif, which we see evolved here to add a welcome bit of ornamentation to what could otherwise be a very plain jersey. They’re not St George’s crosses, and are in fact Victoria Crosses – a fact that has drawn widespread criticism for Canterbury and the RFU. It’s a very emotive issue, and one that’s probably above our pay grade, so instead we’ll say that at least the vocal minority who get irrationally annoyed at the presence of St George’s crosses on England shirts can at least be satisfied…
Round the back, things are as simple as can be – there’s no contrasting colour or pattern as we’ve seen on several shirts this year, which as you’ll know is a big win as far as we’re concerned. The one other big change on the new shirt from all other Canterbury designs we’ve seen is the new ‘Loop 21.4’ collar. Most other Canterbury shirts we’ve seen this year have employed the ring-neck Loop 21.3 design, but this has a much deeper V to the front of the neck, and a more pronounced collar. We have to say, we like it a lot, as a more open neckline always makes a rugby shirt seem less football-like, though if you have the body hair of a Sasquatch, things might get a little bit Studio 54 in the chest rug department… just don’t wear it with a gold medallion, okay?
Last year’s England alternate shirt was a bit of a weird beast. We really liked the stripey design, and we saw plenty of fans wearing it… but that’s about it. While the U20s and Womens’ teams wore the shirt on several occasions, on Stuart Lancaster’s request, England only wore their home shirt last season, so we never actually saw the design on the field.
Fans, probably quite rightly, felt a little aggrieved at that and we still think it was a shame such an interesting and unusual design didn’t get a run-out at Twickenham that it deserved.
This year’s design however, will not be so hamstrung, as Lancaster has relented, and the new design will be worn against Samoa this autumn. Indeed, they’ve even managed to get the taciturn head coach to talk about the new shirt, saying “It’s great that the alternate kit is very much in keeping with our national colours and as such we have chosen the Samoa game to wear it in preparation for the Rugby World Cup as this may be required during the tournament.” You can just smell the enthusiasm, can’t you?
Anyway, the good news is that this tasteful, simple design will be worn, and that’s the main thing, but asides from the swapping of red and white around, there’s no real difference between the home and alternate kits – and that’s no bad thing.
One thing that both shirts have in common, but it a little bit easier to see on the alternate shirt, is a sublimated list of list of the England team’s core values on the bottom half of the shirt’s rear. We’re not entirely sure how the words words Teamwork, Respect, Enjoyment, Discipline and Sportsmanship are supposed to ‘unite supporters and fans’ exactly, but it’s still a nice little nod to the overall theme of ‘England Is All’ and making the fans feel part of the England team, which they’ve been banging the drum of for a few years now.
So, two very simple, very traditional shirts, with a central-badge twist to get people talking about it, and some nice little subtle motifs that elevate it beyond plain t-shirt territory. As we stated at the start, it’s very important for England to get this shirt right, especially with a World Cup just around the corner, but once again Canterbury have proved that the design is in safe hands with them.
SHIT/GOOD RATING: GOOD