Connacht’s remarkable march to their maiden Pro 12 title last season was one of the most heart-warming stories in rugby. The unfashionable Irish province won many admirers throughout the rugby world with their attractive, winning rugby and great team spirit.
This year will be a very different situation for the men from Galway – underdogs no more, Connacht go into 2016/17 as the top dogs in the Pro 12, and they’ll be defending their crown wearing a brand new jersey from BLK.
And what a jersey it is. Connacht were great fun to watch last season, but if there’s one thing that soured things for us, it was the home shirt they wore. A holdover from the 2014 season, the contrasting back and front colours was momentarily hugely trendy in the rugby shirt world, but by last year it had already started to look a bit dated. But you know what never, ever dates on a rugby shirt? Hoops.
Yes, continuing the glorious march towards universal acceptance that all domestic rugby shirts should have some kind of hooped design on them, this new Connacht shirt from BLK utilises our old friend, the subtle hoop trick – cleverly rendered in rather lovely tonal contrast pinstripes.
If you’ve seen any BLK designs, well, ever… you’ll know that the Aussie upstart doesn’t really prescribe to the retro trend that grips other suppliers, and so it’s not surprising that the hoops have been given a distinctly modern twist, further enhanced by the contrasting geometric pattern in the non-striped sections.
While the traditional white secondary colour has taken a back seat this year, the dark blue is still very prominent, with the prominent side panels running under the arms seamlessly into large, striking sleeve cuffs – very nice indeed.
In addition to the shirt itself, this jersey is also a showcase for a few interesting new innovations that we’ll presumably see on other new shirts from BLK this season. Most prominently, there’s the brand new collar design, which we’ve also seen on the new USA and Fiji Olympic Sevens shirts.
Some have drawn comparisons between the new collar and the much maligned old Under Armour ‘tongue’ panel, but we think that’s totally off the mark – asides from the fact that both are used to contain the supplier logo, there’s really not much similar here at all.
It feels a lot more coherent than the ‘tongue’ for starters, and is a continued evolution of BLK’s standard ‘partial raised collar with contrasting insert‘ approach the company has adopted since the start. We think this is the best yet – the angular insert is striking and unique, and makes the design instantly recognisable.
The final point of interest is the badge – rather than stitching it on in traditional style, BLK has opted for something a bit different, using a ‘unique silicone gel finish’ to give the badge a shiny, tactile feel. It’s not quite as striking as the 3D injection-moulded badges, but very cool nonetheless.
Connacht have long been regarded as the poor relation in Irish rugby, and with that notion now absolutely smashed, BLK has created a shirt worthy of champions for 2016/17.