It’s hard to believe that it’s been a decade since the Western Force were confirmed as the fourth Australian franchise to play in the Super Rugby competition. But 10 years it has been, and what better way for the men from Western Australia to celebrate that fact than with two special 10th Anniversary shirts, which they’ll be wearing for the 2015 Super Rugby season.
BLK (in their previous guise as Kooga Australia) have been supplying the Force shirts since 2012, and in that time, the ‘black swan’ motif of the club’s badge has featured prominently on the body of the shirt. Now, to say the least, we’ve not exactly been big fans of that – we were fairly scathing of the continued revelling in the use of such a weird crest so prominently in our review of last year’s design.
As you might imagine, then, we’re positively delighted to see the black swan reduced to just the faintest of impressionistic lines this year. It looks so much better this way, still evoking the swan, without it being so off-puttingly overt. Indeed, it looks rather stylish. Another new addition for this 10th Anniversary shirt is the inclusion of gold trim around the collar, side panels and sleeve cuffs – it looks really nice, and works a lot better than black as the primary trim colour, we think.
The jersey front incorporates some design features we’ve seen on other BLK designs – most notably the diagonal saw-tooth striping that first made an appearance on the 2014 Sharks jersey. It looks perfectly nice here, though we’d have perhaps preferred the pattern to continue onto the sleeves instead of the sublimated swans we get instead, but it’s not a deal-breaker.
We’ve also got the new-style BLK collar, which we first saw on the new Melbourne Rebels shirts. As we’ve said before, we really think this new design is an improvement over the old BLK collar, and we’re hoping that in practice it’ll be a little more comfortable than we’ve found the old one.
Round the back, we can see the back-of-the-neck insert into the collar has become a standard feature on the BLK jersey template, too. We’d prefer to see something on this panel, as on the Rebels shirts, but using a slightly contrasting lighter blue to make this unusual feature stand out is perfectly decent too [Ed’s note – this may not actually be a lighter blue, lighting does funny things to different materials, so you’ll have to judge yourself].
Moving down the back of the jersey, you’ll see what from a distance looks like a small essay. In fact, this is the name of every player who’s donned the Force jersey since their first season in 2006. This is the kind of idea that we find it hard to object to – it’s a nice little nostalgic idea that commemorative jerseys such as this should definitely make use of. However, it’s so hard to do it and make it look half-decent.
Unfortunately, here, it looks like the designer’s fallen asleep on his keyboard mid-job, and has accidentally scrawled random text all over the back of the shirt. At least it’s in a position where it’s not going to be too noticeable on the field, providing players tuck their shirts in, but may well cause some awkward moments in the stands when you get caught staring intently at the rear end of the person in front of you because you were lost in whimsy having read the name Sam Norton-Knight on the bottom of their Anniversary jersey…
The alternate shirt is substantially less subtle in its use of the dreaded black swan, but compared to last year’s affair, it’s again pretty subtle. We don’t mind the shadow effect on such an otherwise plain white shirt, and the sleeve swans don’t look too bad brought into more start prominence either. Indeed, the shirt’s combination of white, black and blue is actually really nice.
A quick word about the Force ’10 Years’ badge, too – it’s a cool, classy motif, and brings a nice splash of complementary colour to both shirts. It also makes the swan badge a little smaller than normal, which reduces the overall swan overload than a lot of previous Force jerseys have suffered from.
Round the back of the shirt, things are again perfectly decent, though unfortunately the roll of honour is black here, making it stand out even more overtly than it did on the home shirt. On the plus side this is easier to read from a distance, on the down side, do you really want people to be able to read reams of small print on your backside from a distance?
A quick word about the sponsors, or lack thereof, on the front of the jerseys. As far as we’re aware the Force will be continuing the innovative main sponsor approach that they tried out last season, by which each of the 22 matchday shirts will have a different main sponsor on the front. We were a little sceptical of this idea last season, but in practice is didn’t look too bad – and given the troubled financial situation in Australian rugby right now, anything that gets money in so the franchises can keep going has to be a good thing.
By the by, last year’s starting XV jerseys were available to be sponsored for the reasonable sum of AU$50,000, so if you’ve got a bit of spare change kicking about and you’re feeling exceptionally generous, you’re welcome to pay to stick Rugby Shirt Watch on the front of the Honey Badger’s shirt – we won’t stop you.
An anniversary shirt is always a big deal, and people will be up in arms if you get it wrong. Good news then, that BLK have produced perhaps their nicest Force shirts yet, which manage to keep things clean and classy, while also having a strong visual identity that leave you in no doubt who they belong to. It’s a shame about the large text block on the back of the shirts, but that aside, we’re finding it hard to pick holes in these.
SHIT/GOOD RATING: GOOD