Man’s evolution has been a slow process since the first Homo sapiens walked the earth many years ago, with scientific and technological revolutions mostly occurring in the last two hundred years and leaving the majority of its history relatively unchanged by comparison.
Since its birth two centuries ago, the rugby kit has been the same, remaining virtually unchanged for around 170 years. For the most part, it predominantly consisted of long socks up to knee height, shorts extending to mid or upper thigh height and a long sleeved, loose-fitting cotton shirt. The only variations were that of the colour of the club and international teams.
Some teams would be creative enough to play around with putting stripes on their socks; others took on the resemblance of a pint of Guinness. Little was changed regularly with the exception of the team’s emblem changing chest plate from time to time.
Entering the digital age and the rise of the global stage
While the invention of the television had occurred some years ago, it wasn’t as accessible as it is today – especially in the notorious drinking grounds of its avid supporters: pubs.
At the end of the late 20th and early 21st century, the Internet was gaining momentum and provided another means of dissemination for rugby. Thus, rugby had a bigger global audience, one beyond radio and limited television sets. The emphasis of this being that ruby had to take on and embrace the growing national pride of an ever-growing global audience.
Yet it wasn’t until 1991 that the English team’s rugby kit changed. It gradually started to adorn the colours of the national team in one form or another: be it the striped colours of the national flag on the sleeve and/or socks and collar.
Of course, where there’s an opportunity in the market for advertising it won’t be long before companies are exploiting it. Teams’ rugby kits soon started to don the logos of global companies as team sponsorship became common practice and another defining change in its evolution.
Evolution and its inherent striving for perfection
Come 2003, England and designers at Nike unveiled the revolution in rugby kit. No more were the loose fitting cotton shirts of old. Now are the days of skin-tight synthetics such as polyester.
This revolution made it harder for the opposing teams to latch onto the shirts of the opposition during tackles, providing a significant advantage and arguably helping England rise to success in the 2003 Rugby World Cup. Further improvements were adaptations for better sweat removal and increased comfort. There was also the addition of gripper print to help in wet conditions and scrimmaging while the collar on the shirts was lost completely.
In total, all the refinements made have led to a lightweight, more durable and performance-enhanced rugby kit. The current gear available represents some of the best scientific engineering in the field of sport and demonstrates how a marriage of industries can be beneficial for all involved.
… written in collaboration with cliftonclothing.com, producers of high quality rugby kits and other types of sportswear for teams and societies.