As the minnows swim into the same pool as the whales, (sorry Scotland, better luck next time!) and coaches and managers are sacked, left right and centre, it’s a good time to look at the background to the game’s most famous product (apart from Johnny Wilkinson’s kicking skills, of course) the shirt.
A rugby shirt is also known as a jersey, and the term describes shirts worn by both rugby union and rugby league players. In sports terms it may have long or short sleeves, although the garment trade views long sleeves as standard. Traditionally, rugby shirts had a buttoned opening, called a placket, which is similar to that used in polo shirts but with a stiffer collar. However, modern rugby shirts often have a very small collar so as to provide less material for a potential tackler to get hold of – of course that would be illegal, and never happens, but isn’t it interesting that garment design has been altered to prevent it happening anyway?
Standard shirt designs consist of five or six horizontal stripes or “hoops” in alternating colours. Football shirts traditionally have vertical stripes instead, apart from Q.P.R. who have always had a competition shirt with hoops – nobody seems to know why! As rugby is played mainly in winter, a cotton rugby kit can weigh around 6 lb when wet. This extra weight has to be carried by the player, in addition to running in wet, heavy ground, and this is why most competition shirts have an element of polyester in the fabric mix, because it doesn’t soak up water like cotton does.
Rugby World Cup winners 2003 photograph by Bombdog, used under a creative commons attribution licence