Given all the Lions they lost in 2014, nobody really fancied the Ospreys to be anything other than dreadful last season, but by Christmas they were top of the table, and while they only finished third in the Pro12 ultimately, they confounded expectations and showed that the future is definitely bright for this season.
Last season was also the start of the Ospreys’ new long-term relationship with Aussie manufacturer BLK, and they certainly got off to a bang with some striking home and away shirts and a jaw-droppingly lovely European shirt.
This season then, the expectations have been raised, both in terms of the Ospreys performances on the field, and the gear that BLK will produce for the, to wear. And in the latter they’ve smashed it out of the park again.
Given that the Ospreys have variously experimented with red, blue, purple, lime green, orange and even gold as a secondary colour over the region’s 12-year existence, it’s pretty remarkable that they’ve never got in on the whole pink shirt thing. Now it’s time for that to change.
In truth though, compared to some of the garish, and let’s be honest, ugly ways that an unusual secondary colour has been incorporated into the design (we’re looking at you, 2009 home shirt!) this is about as subtle as you can imagine, with the merest hint of electric pink on the collar and around the bottom of the design – we think this is a great way to add a splash of colour to a jersey without overwhelming the rest of the design.
And that’s good, because the rest of the design is absolutely gorgeous. First things first, the colour is most definitely, absolutely, 100 per cent black. Last season’s grey-to-black fade home design was criticised by several fans for looking purple at a distance, and clearly BLK has taken this on board, as there’s just one flat, classic colour to the body (though there is the hint of a fade to grey around the sleeves.
But that’s not to say the shirt is totally plain either, of course – instead of any polarising fades or last year’s slightly off-putting carbon fibre effect, instead we have a really, really cool-looking chevron pattern. We’ve seen a lot of chevrons in rugby union over the last year or so, but this is the first one that we’ve seen that’s pointing up instead of down, and it adds a nice sense of dynamism to the design, as well as increasing the general interest factor overall.
If there’s one part of the shirt we’re not quite as keen on, it’s the back, for two reasons. Firstly, the pink-to-black fade on the panel at the back of the neck just doesn’t do it for us – it’s a bit too Miami Vice, and feels slightly out of step with what is an otherwise very restrained, very subtle design.
The other issue isn’t a problem with the shirt at all, but to do with South Wales Wood Recycling. Guys, we get it, you want to support your local team and publicise your business, but if you’re gonna do that, can you maybe have designed a logo that doesn’t look like it was made in MSPaint in 1998 first? It’s so annoying, because it just looks so cheap and tacky on such a classy, restrained design.
The Ospreys have a reputation for wearing shirts that are unconventional at best, and downright garish at worst. So if you looked at the home shirt and thought, ‘Well that’s not right, this shirt is far too grown-up and sensible for the Ospreys’ – don’t you bloody worry, the away shirt is here and it’s going to tick all your boxes.
If the patch on the back of the home shirt was a bit Miami Vice, then this away shirt is full GTA Vice City. We’ve got pink, we’ve got grey, we’ve got white, we’ve got 80s-style fades… it’s brilliantly mental. But also just plain brilliant.
Rather than be a simple colour-swap of the home shirt, this is a totally different design, with the chevron design replaced with a white-to-pink-to-grey fade on the top half of the jersey, combined with some wonderfully garish grey-to-pink fades on the sleeves and down the side vents.
We always bang the drum about away shirts and change shirts being a place where designers can try something a bit crazy, and you can’t say that the brief hasn’t been fulfilled here. On paper it sounds absolutely bonkers, and yet it somehow really works – hats off.
Oh and about those fades on the jersey – take a closer look and you’ll notice that these aren’t just lines or dots or whatever – the entire top half of the shirt has hundreds of sublimated little Ospreys ‘mask’ logos on there. It’s a clever little touch, and one that only serves to make this shirt even more batshit brilliant.
Creating a garish, bold, ugly jersey is quite easy, you’d image, but doing one that’s actually nice is much more of a pickle, and it’s interesting to look at how that’s been achieved here. Notice the way the supporting colours have been carefully balanced so none of them overwhelm things, right down to the main sponsor coordinating with the purple-y colour of the side vents. It makes the whole thing feel coherent, and it’s that kind of attention to detail that makes a great design.
BLK’s first attempt at the Ospreys shirts last season worked, but there was no doubt that they were an acquired taste – they were unabashedly modern, busy and an obvious attempt to show what their design team could do when the brakes were taken off.
While we liked last year’s, there can be little doubt that these 2015/16 designs are a real step up. There’s a confidence and assurance in the design here that we really love – they’re not throwing everything at it, but are capable of being restrained, or bold as and when it’s required.
When we reviewed the 14/15 European shirt last year, we said that it was pretty much the nicest Ospreys shirt ever – well, less than a year later, the 15/16 home shirt is giving it a serious run for its money, and might even nudge past it. The away shirt on the other hand, is wonderfully bonkers – a lesson in how you can use bold colours and design choices in a way that doesn’t look tacky. Second season syndrome? Clearly not a problem here.
SHIT/GOOD RATING: Good