BLK announced their arrival as big players in the European rugby scene when they signed up French rugby superpower Toulouse last season, ending a whopping 23-year association with Nike. And sensibly, the Australian firm kept thing very conservative with their designs for the first go-around, producing three clean and classy shirts that were perfectly suited for the record four-time Heineken Cup winners.
But while we really, really liked last year’s Toulouse shirts, BLK is a brand that generally stays away from the retro-vibed safety that some other suppliers do – they’re never shy about pushing things, and creating designs that feel truly modern and different, and now in their second season, they’ve decided to kick things up a gear.
There’s a clear bit of inspiration drawn from last year’s stunning away shirt here, with it’s bold stripes running down the middle of the jersey, but here, rather than a solid colour, here we have a gradiated striped pattern running down the centre, nicely complimented by the hints of red on the sleeve cuffs, collar and hem.
Undoubtedly, there’s something a little bit Knight Rider about the way the stripe looks, and whether or not that’s a plus or a minus for you will depend on just how much of a soft spot you have for David Hasselhoff, or perhaps the Cylons…
Either way, we think it’s a very cool shirt indeed, and by keeping the rest of the jersey very plain and clean, it really allows the stripe to stand out, and in no way feels cluttered or tacky – great modern jersey design in a nutshell.
Given the home shirt’s nod to last season’s away shirt, it’s unsurprising that the new change shirt feels even closer to it. Like the home shirt, we have a gradiated stripe running down the middle of the jersey, but like last year’s away, the stripe isn’t just one colour – it’s red up top and black when it carries on after the main sponsor box.
The two-colour treatment also continues elsewhere on the shirt, where we’ve got a nice mix of red and black accents on the sleeve cuffs, hem and collar that really makes the whole thing hang together nicely.
This is a nice way of demonstrating how brands can use the same basic design as the home shirt, but with some thought about using the colours in a slightly different way than just a straight palette-swap, it can feel more distinctive and different than it would otherwise.
Speaking of different, the third shirt breaks from the pattern entirely, and there are no Knight Rider stripes to be seen here at all. Instead, we get a plain red shirt, with black sleeves, and just a tiny bit of white around the collar.
There’s nothing wrong with it, per se, however we aren’t massive fans of brands using different colours for the sleeves and shoulders in the raglan style – we’ve seen it quite a bit over the last few months, and quite often the shirt ends up looking more like a training jersey than a match one. Ironically, Stade’s actual training jersey looks quite like a match shirt, so maybe they should have swapped the designs round?
Still, minor reservations about the thir jersey aside, we really can’t find fault with these shirts. Last season, BLK showed that they could produce a shirt that was worthy of a club with the prestige and heritage of Toulouse and not feel like there had been a sudden or drastic shift from the more conservative vibe of the last days of Nike.
This year sees them starting to stamp a bit more of the Aussie brand’s defiantly modern design philosophy on the shirts, however, and that’s no bad thing at all – they’re still doing it in a way that isn’t so radical as to put people off, but still feels different from what’s come before. Nice.
SHIT/GOOD RATING: Good