England might be off to successful start in their Rugby World Cup campaign in Japan, but the next time Eddie Jones’ men head to the Southern Hemisphere, they’ll be wearing kit made by an extremely unexpected brand.
According to a report in the Mail on Sunday, England will end their eight-year association with Canterbury after next year’s Six Nations tournament, and have signed a multi-million pound deal with English brand Umbro.
According to the MoS, Umbro outbid various other brands, including Adidas, to seal the deal, with the RFU pocketing a whopping £5 million a season from the football kit specialists in exchange for the England rights.
While it’s been several decades since Umbro had any real presence in rugby, the brand is not totally alien to the oval ball game, and in the 1980s and 90s the double diamond logo was worn by a variety of high-profile teams in both codes.
Umbro provided the kit for the disastrous British Lions in 1983 tour to New Zealand, and supplied both Ireland and Scotland in the mid-1990s. In rugby league they also supplied Great Britain, England, Australia and various club teams in England, Wales and Australia in both codes.
That was a long time ago, however, and the brand has undergone many changes since then. Umbro was founded in Cheshire in 1924, but since then the company has gone through various owners, including US sportswear giant Nike, and currently is part of the US-based Iconix Brand Group.
Iconix seem to have a taste for 80s and 90s brands, as the group also owns the rights to fellow throwback brands Pony, Starter, Ocean Pacific, Lee Cooper and Ecko. The worry for England fans will be that none of these brands have much expertise in producing apparel for contact sports.
A rugby shirt needs to be significantly more durable and hard-wearing than a football shirt, while still being lightweight and breathable, and Umbro will have to hit the ground running if they don’t want fans to start questioning the RFU’s decision to reject Adidas and Canterbury – two of the best brands in the business – in favour of an unknown quantity.
An interesting wrinkle in all this is Sports Direct. Mike Ashley’s much-maligned sportswear retailer owns 11.5% of the Iconix Group, and wholly owns rugby retail giant Lovell Rugby, and its in-house VX3 brand.
While the Ashley association may be understandably distasteful to some, the association with VX3 and Lovell will hopefully assuage concerns about Umbro’s expertise when it comes to rugby kit manufacture.
England will not be the only nation swapping kit supplier next year. Wales and Under Armour have announced the end of their long-running kit deal four years early, with Macron strongly rumoured to be taking over.
What do you think of the Umbro deal, England fans? Tell us your thoughts in the comments below…