The Highlanders surprised pretty much everyone in 2015. With just five playoff appearances in 18 seasons, and despite only qualifying for the playoffs as one of the best runners up, the men from Otago took the hard road to their first Super Rugby final, and then managed to get one over the much-fancied razzle dazzle Hurricanes to win their first ever title.
Now, we’re not saying that the Highlanders first playoff appearances in more than a decade, not to mention winning the whole damn thing, was entirely down to the fact that the Dunedin franchise were wearing one of the most elegantly gorgeous shirts in recent seasons for the last two seasons, but, well… it can’t have hurt, can it?
One of the best things about that stunning Highlanders 2014/15 shirt was the subtle yet striking way that it paid homage to the Celtic (specifically Scottish) heritage of the Otago and Southland regions, and the 2016 jersey continues this trend. Gone are the subtle Celtic band motifs, replaced with a tartan-esque pattern that swathes across the front of the design.
Tartan, is of course, none more Scottish, and the way that the motif flows across the shirt is also reminiscent of the tartan cloak of a Highland warrior billowing in the breeze (actually, it’s Scotland, let’s be honest here, it’s going to be blowing a frigging gale) – something that’s of course been featured in the Highlanders’ logo since the franchise’s inception.
It’s not quite as subtle, nor as intricate as the Celtic band hoops of last season, but we still think it looks very, very cool indeed. It’s probably the most subtle motif of any of the New Zealand Super Rugby shirts we’ve seen this year, and one that adds some welcome interest to what would have been quite plain jersey otherwise.
Not that there would have been anything wrong with that, of course – we’ve said before that the Highlanders’ blend of dark blue, yellow and maroon (reflecting the unions of Otago, North Otago and Southland respectively) is one of the most underrated and pleasing blends around, and we’re glad to see Southland given a little bit more prominence this year – the maroon collar and placket really compliments the design nicely.
There’s no getting away from it – we don’t quite love this year’s Highlanders shirt as much as the 2014/15 version… but frankly that’s one of our favourite jersey designs in recent years and has had pride of place in our personal collection for some time. This however, is still a damn cool shirt, and another really cool, unique design for a New Zealand Super Rugby team. Awesome.