NEWS: England Rugby will have a surprising new kit supplier next season

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’s Ireland 1992/93 home shirt (Image: Classic Rugby Shirts)

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.

England’s current Canterbury jersey looks to be the last design of the eight-year partnership

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…

10 comments

  1. Why fix what’s not broken stick with Canterbury good kit well made and a delight to wear think of the fans unless the kit is going to be cheaper because of the change

  2. Umbro….macron….vx3…all new brands that are in the trend at the mo…even BLK are just about still going.

    Where are all the top rugby brands going though??

    Gilbert only have 1 top team left in the Baa Baas, Kooga have all but vanished, under armour are pulling out left, right and centre…nike and adidas are not really bothered, samurai are still about i guess, but canterbury seem to be shrinking thier sizes each year.

  3. It’s time Umbro came back to Rugby League and made some classic jerseys like for Great Britain!

  4. The Sports Direct link you mention explains why Lovell Rugby customer service has rapidly declined over the last 3 years or so…

    Haven’t purchased from those jokers in a long time.

  5. I ran the Umbro rugby division in the late 80’s early 90’s and that experience allowed me to create the KooGa rugby brand,it would be very interesting to see the old double diamond on an England shirt although I wonder ,as they have not been in the market for 30 years who at Umbro has the understanding of rugby products and rugby people.

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