Nothing says ‘our creative reserves have evaporated, please let us go on holiday’ like a website churning out yet another boring, predictable end-of-year list feature does it? But we at Rugby Shirt Watch would never pretend we’re above that sort of lazy journalism – far from it. No, we’re here to goddamn embrace the glory of nostalgia, as we take a look back at the very best rugby shirts of 2016.
The criteria for a place on this list is very simple – if your shirt from the 2016 league or union season (15/16 for Northern Hemisphere teams) earned a prestigious Rugby Shirt Watch Gold Award, you’re in – the only thing left to argue about is the order…
12 Racing 92 Kappa 2015/16 Home
Racing’s final year with Kappa was a hugely successful one – the Parisians made it to the final of the Champions Cup, and captured their first Top 14 title in 20 years. Kappa knew exactly how to treat the Racing recipe, and they let it shine here.
We said: “The Racing shirt has always looked great and this new ‘Kombat’ design continues that trend – it’s refreshingly traditional and classic design that suits the world class players who’ll be donning it to a tee.”
11 Argentina Sevens 2016 Nike Alternate
Argentina always seem to keep things safe and classic with their Sevens home shirt, but Nike has been able to really push the boat out with the change shirt in the last few years – and this is no exception. Striking black with eye-catching pink accents is one thing, but when you factor in the puma-spotted pink fade panels on the side this really does soar.
We said: “We’ve come to expect good things from the partnership, but this has comfortably surpassed those expectations. Quite simply, stunning.”
10 Canterbury-Bankstown Bulldogs 2016 Canterbury Heritage
The Bulldogs chose to pay homage to their pre-chevron 1935-65 look last season with a stunning hooped design that is breathtaking in its simplicity. The classic royal blue and white hoops are accented with pinstripes either side, creating one of the more classically lovely shirts we saw last season.
We said: “It’s an exercise in clean, classy design that blends the proud history of one of the NRL’s oldest clubs with a design aesthetic that retains that simplicity even in the face of modern jersey demands and sponsorship.”
9 Bath 2015/16 Canterbury Home
Canterbury’s first Bath shirt was an absolute stormer – melding the club’s classic hoops with the black sleeves and neckline to create a jersey that was worthy of their 150th anniversary.
We said: “Hopefully Bath fans will look at this new Canterbury shirt and see the benefits a big supplier can bring – merging the club’s iconic colours with clever, thoughtful modern design, cool innovative little touches that you don’t see anywhere else.”
8 Castres Olympique 2015/16 Kipsta Away
Kipsta might be a sub-brand of a French sports retailer, but their Castres shirts from last year were better than many of the jerseys the big guns were churning out. The subtle hoops and bold use of colour really set this away shirt apart.
We said: “Whisper it, but they might be giving the soon-to-be replaced Cardiff Blues 2013/15 home shirt a run for its money as our favourite hooped shirt design of recent years.”
7 Connacht 2015/16 BLK Superhero
The superhero jersey trend (RIP!) made its way up to the Northern Hemisphere in 2016, with Ospreys, Toulouse and Connacht all getting in on the act. Connacht’s Green Lantern shirt was the pick of the bunch however, for it’s ‘ripped from the pages of a comic book’ feel.
We said: “Rarely has the superhero jersey concept melded so well with a club’s colours and general design philosophy.”
6 Union Bordeaux Bègles 2015/16 Kappa Away
UBB are always in an advantageous position thanks to their stunning blue, burgundy and white colour scheme, but this away shirt really is a thing of beauty – that striped chevron complementing the striped collar perfectly.
We said: “This jersey bloody oozes class, from collar to sleeve to the scapulaire – and for once, even the players’ version with all those extra sponsors isn’t too tacky either!”
5 Blues Adidas 2016 Home
Adidas went right outside the box with their New Zealand Super Rugby jerseys this year, and it meant a stark change for the Blues, who adopted this striking light to dark blue fade with super-cool subtle Maori motif on the shoulder.
We said: “If they do well this year, more than a few will be saying that it’s partly down to the good fortune brought by their stunning new look, and a home shirt that we think is one of the nicest designs in Super Rugby, or anywhere else.”
4 Ospreys 2015/16 Home
The Ospreys have had many odd and garish jersey designs over the years, but one of their most subtle also turned out to be perhaps their nicest ever. With a subtle inverted chevron pattern on the front and the pink accents, this was understated and cool as can be.
We said: “There’s a confidence and assurance in the design here that we really love – they’re not throwing everything at it, but are still capable of being restrained or bold, as and when it’s required. Second season syndrome? Clearly not a problem here.”
3 Crusaders 2016 Adidas Home
The Crusaders shook off two years of jersey awfulness with an absolutely stunning new home shirt for 2016 – complete with red/black fade, subtle plate armour motif and a interesting knight on horseback graphic.
We said: “It’s modern, it’s bold, it’s definitely going to divide opinion among the traditionalists, and it’s absolutely perfect for the new era of the franchise.”
2 Jaguares 2016 Nike Away
The Jaguares caused an absolute frenzy with the release of their stunning first ever shirts – this orange striped away shirt just pips the moody black home design for its out-there brilliance. The only blight was a lack of replicas sold outside of Argentina!
We said: “With Argentina’s new international selection policy meaning that the bulk of the Pumas squad that lit up the World Cup last year are signed on with Los Jaguares, they could be one of the most exciting teams in the tournament. It makes these stunning shirts all the more appropriate. The easiest Gold Award we’ve given all year!”
1 Cardiff Blues 2015/16 Canterbury European
The Blues’ stunning hooped European jersey is more than just a gorgeous shirt. It’s also a shirt that raises awareness and money for the #StayStrongForOws campaign, and does so by incorporating the colours of Owen Williams’ hometown club, Aberdare RFC, with the Blues’ own.
Even if it had none of that, the striking, unique spin on the classic hooped shirt design would have been a contender for our Rugby Shirt Of The Year top spot, as it is, the positive associations make it an even more worthy winner. Class, in every way.
We said: “Not only is this supporting a fantastic, worthwhile cause, it’s also one of the most eye-catching and most gorgeous shirt designs of the season. In fact, it might be our favourite full stop. If you support the Blues, why haven’t you bought one already? Even if you don’t support the Blues, buy one anyway – not only will you be doing your good deed for the day, you’ll get a stunningly nice rugby shirt out of it, too.”
So there you have it, the best rugby shirts of 2016 – feel free to share your thoughts with us in the comments below, and we’ll be back in the New Year with loads of new jerseys for you to get your head around!