Adam Hathaway, rugby correspondent of The People, has a look at the spin over England’s latest high-performance kit and says common sense might be breaking out in Wales.
The phrase marginal gains has been buzzing around sport for donkey’s and some of them work – but some of them are baloney.
Back in the day, Clive Woodward said his England team had to do 100 things one per cent better to be the best in the world and attention to detail nowadays has reached fanatical levels.
Some of the stuff spouted sounds like the proverbial load of old tosh and England’s latest rugby shirt, a snip at 95 quid, has ramped it up a notch or 50. It also the 10th kit they have brought out in four years and the men’s team may run out in it precisely once.
We all know the RFU have to make a dollar to keep the whole show rolling but one look at social media showed just what the fans thought of it all. And Twickenham Man and Woman was not enamoured.
The new alternative strip, which will be worn by the men against Argentina on 11 November and the women against Canada on 21 November, was unveiled last week. And its release was accompanied by a press missive full of unrelenting gobbledegook.
The spiel told us that the dark grey kit is ‘accentuated with a fiery red fade’. This apparently is designed to ‘mask player movement’ and the whole outfit is inspired by distraction principles……nope we don’t know either.
The PR guff goes on and on but life really is too short so here is just a taster.
“In line with England head coach Eddie Jones’ vision to be more disruptive and uncompromising on the field, the dark grey colour was chosen as a point of difference to the usual colour palette used by England,” it read.
We all know New Zealand have traded on their black kit, and its menacing overtones, for years and at the 2015 World Cup they trotted out what was purported to be the ‘blackest shirt ever’.
But what about grey, isn’t it a bit wishy-washy to be truly threatening? Even the All Blacks have lost in grey – just remember what France did to them in 2007 in Cardiff in that World Cup quarter-final.
The RFU over the years have given us plenty to have a crack at them about – but this is the most open of open goals. There is too much serious stuff going on in the game at the moment with talk of strikes, player welfare and suspensions for ‘making contact with the eye area’ that this gave us a bit of light relief.
‘Mask player movement’ – what is that all about? Why don’t England just play in green to blend in with the pitch? Or go the whole kit and caboodle and run on wearing full camouflage clobber?
The white kit, which will be worn against Australian and Samoa, also has a blue feature on it that is designed to do the same mysterious ‘masking player movement’ trick.
‘Distraction principles’? We thought distraction principles were something to do with the bottle of wine left in the fridge, which takes your mind off that overdue bit of work, or the latest episode of Dr Foster. Now that really is distracting. Somewhere, someone is getting paid a lot of cash for putting this stuff out.
Cobblers doesn’t do it justice.
One expert, Professor Wendy Adams, an expert in human visual perception at the University of Southampton, told The Daily Telegraph, that the new shirt might just work but for one important factor.
“The dark grey of the colour of the fabric could, in principle, reduce the salience of visual contours, such as shadow boundaries within the players’ bodies, when compared to a white kit, for example,” she said.
“The gradual change from grey to red may also be less likely to attract attention than a sharp grey-red boundary.”
But unfortunately she added the rider that the effects of the new design might not work because the sponsor’s logo in the middle of the players’ chests would dilute the effect.
There is also the small matter of how you are going to be less likely to attract attention if you are built like Billy Vunipola – just because of what you are wearing and in the broad daylight.
You couldn’t make it up.
No-one has to buy the shirt – you can get 19 pints at Twickenham for your 95 knicker which might be a better investment – but it makes you wonder if the players really buy into it. Imagine asking a wing at a club match why he didn’t beat a defender and then imagine him responding he had the wrong shirt on.
I am sure the boffins have produced the lightest, most durable , most cooling shirt that it is humanly possible to knock out but the colour scheme thing, and the apparent job it does, sounds like something out of Harry Potter.
And what about the fans? How will this cloak of invisibility help them when they are trying to sneak home after a match and are attempting to dodge their partner when they are nipping in the back door after a few too many sherbets?
Ahead of the 2003 World Cup England were the first team to wear skin-tight shirts. You could see the logic behind them, because they were harder for tacklers to grip, even if some of the front row lads needed to be poured into them. The rest of the world caught up pretty quickly on that one.
But some of the other kits England have worn have been abominations.
In my mind’s eye, I can still eye Chris Ashton running the length of the field to score one of the Twickenham tries of the century, against Australia in 2010, and he is wearing white.
But a quick look at the video confirms how the mind plays tricks. Ashton was, in fact, wearing a garb made up of anthracite grey and red. It would have been even better in white and imagine how much more of a mug he would have made out of the Aussie defence if he had been wearing the fiery grey fade get-together. No, don’t bother.
At the 2011 World Cup England, and their sponsors, decided it would be a good idea to wear black in one game. That tournament was held…..err….in New Zealand, home of the All Blacks, and went down like a lead balloon.
And in the past England have worn purple and blue and the Sevens mob once had a disgraceful tangerine garment that looked like a five-year-old had been let loose on it with a paint-balling gun.
Whilst the kid was on an acid trip.
Like that, this latest wheeze on kit just doesn’t wash and we won’t wear it.
Meanwhile, in Wales it looks like there could be a bout of common sense breaking out over Gatland’s Law – which apparently has nothing to do with their current national coach.
Ross Harries revealed on the excellent BBC Wales programme Scrum V, on Sunday, the rules on players playing outside of the Principality might be relaxed and the WRU could adopt a similar system to that used by the Wallabies.
The regulations have been in the news because the Wales and Lions scrum-half Rhys Webb has announced he will be signing for Toulon next season and that has caused a lot of head-scratching.
Gatland can only pick a certain number of players who are plying their trade elsewhere for internationals. It came into place in 2015 and means Gatland can only select four stars who knocked back Welsh contracts to play in other leagues, usually in England or France.
But now, as Harries reported, they are thinking of adopting Cheika’s Law which enabled the Aussie coach to pull in Matt Giteau and Drew Mitchell for the last World Cup.
Michael Cheika’s reasoning was that if you had won 60 or more Wallaby caps, whilst playing in Oz, you had done your bit and were entitled to go and earn a few Euros. And you were entitled to play for your country.
And now Wales, it seems, might be doing the same. It is no good for Webb, who has won 28 caps for Wales, but it would help out a few big names.
George North at Northampton, Taulupe Faletau, currently tearing it up at Bath, and Jamie Roberts at Harlequins would have the asterisk removed from next to their name and would, club contracts permitting, to play at any time in World Rugby’s designated window.
The Welsh regions can’t compete with the salaries being doled out in the Premiership and the Top 14 so why should a bloke be denied the chance to earn a few more quid just because he is good at his job? No-one with a real job would turn down a pay rise.
And why should the Welsh fans be denied the chance to see them play Test rugby?
English players cannot be selected by Eddie Jones if they play outside the Premiership but the bung is so good from the RFU and their clubs they don’t need to go elsewhere.
It is a different matter for the Welsh and it looks like they may have seen sense. It will never catch on.