Black & White (and red and blue and purple and grey)
7 August 2011
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I don’t think that the launch of a rugby shirt has ever courted such controversy. England’s black change strip has been branded as disrespectful to New Zealand, a publicity faux pas, and a cynical marketing ploy by Nike. However, having watched England’s Men in Black play Wales on Saturday I have to say they look great!
Of course the New Zealand All Black shirt is iconic and is synonymous with the country, just as the white shirt is with England. But when Wales went to a black change strip some years ago I don’t remember any fuss about it. Has anyone bothered to report that Canada and Japan have also adopted a black change strip for the forthcoming Rugby World Cup?
In Europe the change strips of Scotland, France and Italy are white and are worn regularly in the Six Nations when they play each other but not a murmur from England fans. Ironically, New Zealand’s change strip is also white and you will see their players proudly wearing it when they play Scotland, but there is never an outcry about it being disrespectful to England.
Nike started the trend of creating a new England change strip each season two years ago when the purple strip was unveiled to play against Argentina. There was the usual harrumphing about not being traditional but people seemed unaware that since 1991 England official change colour was actually blue until red was adopted about four years ago. Despite the mutterings the purple strip was a hit and all shirts, polos and t-shirts of that colour sold out.
Seeing they were on to a good thing Nike created an anthracite (dark grey to you and me) shirt which is best remembered as being the one Chris Ashton wore when he scored that remarkable try against Australia. Once again it was popular although you can still get some examples in most online rugby stores.
So this time they have come up with the controversial black strip but only after consulting with the NZRFU who voiced no objection. Rather than a slur on New Zealand I see it as a tribute to the country hosting the Rugby World Cup. Is it a marketing ploy? Well of course it is! Nike pay the RFU millions of pounds every year to be one of the prime sponsors along with O2, so why shouldn’t they sell rugby shirts that the public want to buy and that will recoup some of their investment in the game? Best of all from their point of view is that they are getting so much extra free publicity.
Judging by the number of replica shirts being worn by supporters at the game I think that the black strip will sell very well. I have even bought myself a black polo shirt and I shall wear it with pride in New Zealand!