When it comes to bold, involved concepts for rugby jersey designs, some rugby fans are rather cynical and dismissive that a shirt can really ‘tell a story’ or indeed mean anything more than some clever marketing nonsense. But for years now, the Chiefs have been challenging that preconception forcefully with their incredibly involved and carefully considered jersey designs.
Starting with their 2014/15 jerseys, the Chiefs fully embraced the trend for jersey designs that quite literally speak of the culture and ethos of the team, and did so by embracing their cultural heritage in a smart, scholarly and respectful manner that never feels gimmicky. They continued this with the equally stunning 2016/17 designs, and the brand new for 2018 jerseys are no different.
The overall theme of last year’s Chiefs jerseys was ‘He piko, he taniwhā’ – an excerpt from a Waikato/Tainui saying ‘Waikato Taniwhā rau, he piko he taniwhā, he piko he taniwhā‘. This phrase literally means ‘Waikato of a hundred Chiefs, at every turn of the river a Chief’.
This year’s jersey is basically an evolution of that theme, and the intricate pattern that covers the jersey’s front is once again designed to reflect the way the contributing regions of the Chiefs – Bay of Plenty, Waikato, Taranaki, Counties Manukau, Thames Valley and King Country – are like those turns in the river.
Between the badges on the chest, the dominant graphical flourish is designed to represent the mangopare (hammerhead shark). This represents strength and determination and relentlessness – no matter what the challenge. It is the symbol of a warrior, while also representing dynamic movement, fluidity, growth and striving to always go forward – all qualities most of us would associate with the Chiefs’ high-tempo style of rugby.
The figure of the taniwhā is the dominant feature of the bottom half of the jersey front, and its placement is not accidental – its strategic placement over the stomach region so it can draw power and energy from this area. The taniwhā represents the Chiefs and all of the qualities it takes to be considered a Chief, while also knitting the design together in the way the Chiefs players want to be united on and off the field.
A new feature of the Chiefs home shirt this year is the triangle pattern that dominates the back and sides of the design. This pattern is called ‘tapa-toru‘ and the way the myriad small triangles make up one larger triangle again symbolises the unity of many parts making a larger whole.
The shape of the triangles themselves also represent the nature of the warrior – threats can come from any direction but the point of the triangle will always be ready and pointing towards victory.
For the last four years, Adidas has opted to use a simple palette swap for their change jersey, but this year we’re treated to even more smart and creative jersey design, because the away design is totally different to the home, with a white base jersey accented by a striking green pattern across the front of it.
This away jersey is called ‘Waikato Horopounamu‘ which roughly translated means, ‘the spoils of battle. The greenstone treasures’.
The ‘greenstone treasure’ that they’re talking about is jade – the precious stone known as greenstone, or ‘Pounamu‘ in the Maori language. Jade is something that’s highly prized in Maori culture, it’s known as a taonga (a thing to be treasured). Indeed, the tribes of the Chiefs region often traded for Pounamu, and even won it in battle.
And that’s where the clever bit of this design really comes in – because what’s one of the most precious commodities in rugby? The away win. So when the Chiefs wear this shirt for their road games, they’re demonstrating how their searching for that taonga – the win away from home.
And that’s just the meaning behind the colour used on the jersey’s intricate design! Believe it or not, the design itself also has some meaning behind it!
Throughout the design the swirling pattern once again features the taniwhā. Now, the taniwhā are spiritual creatures, dangerous if crossed, but also guardians of their regions and its people. They represent all the regions that make up the Chiefs, but also strength in attack and defence that the Chiefs will need on the road.
Some people get pretty grumpy when we really get in-depth about the stories and philosophies behind the jerseys we review because they see it as us getting swept up in the marketing spiel. But we honestly think that it just doesn’t apply to these Chiefs designs at all.
These are designs that are created with real care, reverence and respect for the culture of the region that the team represents, and with a level of detail that very few other teams can get near. Simply put, shirts like these are the reason that we can sit here and write hundreds of words about this stuff!