To mark the announcement of the British & Irish Lions squad last week, Canterbury’s ‘Untouchable Jersey’ marketing campaign reached its climax with the launch of the Elite jersey – identical in every way to the one that Sam Warburton and co will wear in New Zealand. But what makes this thing worth a whopping 50 quid more than the perfectly brilliant Pro shirt we looked at back in November? Well, Canterbury were decent enough to give us a chance to spend a few days with one, and here’s what we discovered…
The most striking thing about this Elite jersey off the bat is the way that it’s been packaged. Whereas the normal jersey is bagged up or on a hanger like any other shirt, the on-field design really takes the ‘Untouchable Jersey’ concept and runs with it.
So, the shirt itself is contained with a metallic sleeve that most closely resembles the sort of sterile food packaging you’d see contain camping food, field rations or indeed, space food. That might sound a bit odd, but it does give a certain official, ready for action kinda vibe, which given that this is identical to the on-pitch jersey, fits very well.
On the one side we have a semi-translucent Lions crest that gives a hint at the jersey inside, while on the back we have some slightly melodramatic words about sweat and legends and brotherhood and all that, the overall theme being ‘DON’T OPEN IT UNTIL THE SQUAD HAS BEEN ANNOUNCED’ (or Adam Jones will get you).
The vaguely officious top secret vibe is further enhanced by the presence of a seal across the press-seal opening of the pouch. It sounds silly, but the Lions crest and the ‘DO NOT OPEN’ legend really do make you feel like you’re cracking into some sort of secret diplomatic packet or something, which is exactly the point, we’d imagine.
After breaking the seal and cracking the press seal, pulling the jersey out feels like a bit of an event, and from the first touch you can feel the difference in the material between the Elite and Pro jerseys.
The Pro shirt has a Vaposhield water-resistant coating on the shoulders and sleeves, giving a subtly different feel to the body, while the fabric itself feels stretchy and more malleable, yet stronger with it. In every way it feels like a shirt that’s ready for punishment.
As you might expect from a shirt that’s build to withstand test-match conditions, the cut is also a lot tighter and more fitted than the supporter’s jersey – it’s designed to be pretty much skin tight, and hug the body tightly, and it does that well, without feeling too restrictive.
Visually, the jersey is of course basically identical to the Pro design, but there’s one notable difference that also happens to be one of the coolest design features we’ve seen on any shirt ever.
We mentioned that the sleeves and shoulders are Vaposhield-treated for water resistance, and to emphasise this, rather than have an embossed lion motif, as with the Pro shirt, this one has a secret, invisible Lion that only appears when the area comes into contact with water.
We’re not entirely sure how Canterbury did it, but as a subtle yet theatrical touch, it’s pretty spectacular – call us easily pleased, but there’s something very cool, very secret-agent-y about hidden logos that only get revealed when you splash a bit of water on them!
Perhaps the most notable and visible difference between the supporter jersey is in the collar, where Canterbury has clearly gone to great lengths to ensure that the unique ‘wingtip’ design can handle the rigours of test rugby.
So, where the Pro shirt had an elasticated placket, here we have a bonded, solid placket that holds the loop collar in place, while the tips of the collar have also been stitched into place for strength and to stop them being grabbed in the tackle.
Around the back on the other hand, where we had a tiny fold-over collar on the Pro jersey, the Elite version has an elasticated insert with the Lion logo on it – adding strength while also allowing a bit of give should an opposition player catch onto it.
For the casual fan, there’s very little visual difference between the Pro and Elite versions of the Lions jersey, and for £120 it’s hardly a budget purchase – but we’re not casual fans. For those of us who are jersey fanatics or want to experience what it’s like to don a proper on-field professional rugby jersey, the lure of the more expensive one is very real.
The Elite jersey feels like an event, it feels like something special – from the packaging to the attention to detail, you feel like you’re holding not just a replica rugby shirt, but a tool that’s been designed and tested to cope with the demands of the most brutal and physical sporting environment imaginable. Sam Warburton and his players are going to need it.