For the last few seasons, it’s been trendy to pick the Dragons as the Pro12 team most likely to take the step up from basement dwellers to genuine contenders. They have a good coach in Lyn Jones, and in the likes of Hallam Amos, Tyler Morgan and Jack Dixon, they have an exciting crop of hugely talented youngsters around which to build. Last season showed the first real indication of their progress. They may have struggled in the Pro12 somewhat, but in Europe they made it to the Challenge Cup semi-final, and managed to beat eventual Top14 winners Stade Francais in Paris, no mean feat.
The Dragons’ 2015/16 kit is supplied by long-term kit partner Gilbert, and while it’s one of the most ambitious kits that Gilbert has attempted in recent years, it’s also proved to be one of the most controversial ones with fans in recent memory.
You see, when the kits were revealed to fans, they looked like this. You have to say that the home shirt is a really cool looking design, with a striking bright red chevron (containing very dragon scales), and was a real winner with fans and neutrals alike. However, when the Dragons faithful went to the club shop to buy their replica versions, they were instead presented with the home shirt you see here.
It’s very different, you have to say, not least the fact that there’s nothing subtle about the dragon scales, not only making the whole thing seem a lot darker and less striking, but also a fair bit tackier, too. Combined with a completely different collar, changes to the piping (what happened to the black and amber stripes running from the armpit?) and a general feeling that this was a much less well-done design than the player’s version, the fans were livid.
Apparently there were issues with the production of the replicas that meant they looked so noticeably different from the on-field gear, so what could be done? The fans don’t want to feel like they’re getting a poor imitation, but the club had obviously ordered a load of shirts that they wanted to sell… The answer, apparently, was to alter the on-field jersey so that it no resembles the replica more faithfully, and Christ that’s a shame.
We really, really liked the original version, and while we don’t hate the one we’ve ended up with here, it does feel like a bit of a consolation prize – when you’ve been shown how good this shirt could look, it’s always going to feel a compromise when you end up with something markedly worse.
Still, we applaud the Dragons desire to create a shirt that looks and feels a bit more individual, and we can only applaud their increased use of red, combined with the amber piping, which on the right shirt would really work. It’s just a pity that this year’s design isn’t quite there.
The alternate shirt also deviates from the original on-field design – the white and dark blue shapes look a lot thinner, and the collar is different, for starters – but it’s nowhere near as overt as on the home shirt.
It’s very similar to last season’s alternate shirt in fact, with just a few tweaks to the basic formula, such as making the white panel above the badges a bit thinner and less busy, so it doesn’t actually interfere with the crest and sponsor logo this time. It’s definitely a positive though, and the shirt looks all the better for it.
The Dragons have been rocking the blue and white alts for two seasons now, and while it’s a bit of a tweak on the black, blue and gold of the Kingdom of Gwent coat of arms, it’s a combination that works really well together.
We’re also pleased to see that the designers at Gilbert have opted to give the Fleur de Lys a rest this year – that’s consistently been the worst thing about the Dragons change shirt for the last three or four seasons, and we’re glad they’ve finally taken the hint that it’s shit.
So what do you say about these designs? Can you really judge them on their own merits when we’ve seen what they’re supposed to look like, and that’s significantly better? It’s hard, especially when the replica fiasco has annoyed fans so much, too.
We can appreciate the good parts of these shirts on their own merits, and hope that it’s the sign of good things to come for the future in the design stakes for Gilbert and the Dragons, but for now, we can’t help but feel a bit short-changed.
SHIT/GOOD RATING: When you see what they could have been… shit