All Blacks: What's in a Jersey?

Matt ManleyContributor IJuly 16, 2009

Something has rattled my brain about why the All Blacks have had such strife every World Cup. My interest was peeked when Adidas announced that the AB's would return to their traditional white away strip. Might not seem like a big deal, but to the Kiwi mind, it puts a possible hoodoo to rest.

Before the last World Cup, a silver-grey color was chosen as the AB's alternative jersey. Said jersey was panned by traditionalist and lamented when the French produced a dramatic win to push New Zealand out of the 2007 Quarter Finals. Surely our jersey can't be to blame, can it?

What if a jersey is to blame? Most importantly, what if the manufacturer of said jersey?

Growing up in Portland, OR, I have always had a strong connection with Nike. The 'hometown' brand has always been a nostalgic choice for me, even when it came to rugby. When I started playing rugby, my first priority was to track down a pair of Nike rugby boots.

Being from the States and knowing of Nike's global reach, it surprised me how few rugby teams had Nike kits. At that time, Nike outfitted England, France, and South Africa. I suppose quality was their focus rather than quantity.

However, I always felt as if Nike and All Blacks were made for each other. There is something about the Nike brand name the oozes dominance and superiority, terms often used to describe the All Blacks. The AB's also have something unique in all of sports, and I always felt if married to Nike's radical innovations, the two would be unstoppable.

The traditional choice for the All Blacks was Canterbury of New Zealand who outfitted the team for 75 years till they lost the contract to Adidas in 1999.

The New Zealand Rugby Union's deal was a financial masterstroke and still reaps huge monetary rewards for the union, but the Rugby World Cup problems really began after the Adidas switch.

I took a poke through history to see if my little theory would hold up: Does it matter who makes your jersey?

The first Rugby World Cup in 1987 saw New Zealand's only Finals success. They played a French team in an Adidas kit, so score one for the 3-stripers. Remember though, that the jersey was made by Canterbury, with or without a logo.

In 1991, the Aussies won the RWC with an unbranded jersey as well. Runners-up England wore jerseys made by Cotton Traders which was also unlabelled. The All Blacks failed to make it out of the Semis.

In 1995, A Nike-clad South Africa overtook the Canterbury of NZ-outfitted All Blacks side. At that time the AB's were blaming a little bad home-cooking on their performance rather than garment choice. However, it was still a trip to the Final decked out with the CCC.

In 1999, the Aussies again went home victorious in a Reebok jersey of all things. They won in the Final over a Nike-kitted French side. Les Bleus beat the AB's, wearing Adidas for the first time, in the Semis. 

The year 2002 saw a drastic shift in rugby fashion. Nike took on the task of creating a tight fitting jersey for the first time and the result changed the rugby jersey forever. Utilizing new fabrics Nike was able to craft a form-fitting shirt that could move with the player.

Nike's innovations to the sport of rugby are not well documented, but this was turning point in world rugby if there ever was one. What also isn't talked about is that Nike was the first to put rubber dots on the jersey for grip, well before Canterbury of NZ.

That next year, England won the RWC 2003 in their new Nike jerseys over the Aussies in Canterbury. New Zealand out in the semis.

This last Rugby World Cup saw South Africa in Canterbury's latest kit win over England in Nike. Canterbury took a lot of Nike's innovations, and added some twists of their own to further push rugby garment technology. The AB's were out in QF's and Argentina, another Adidas team, was out in the semis.

So what does all this wonderfully useless information lead to?

Sure you can blame the jersey for how you play, but obviously it has little to do with your performance. Even with the innovations in rugby tech, the better team on the day will prevail.

However, it might help to have avoid 3-stripes if you are trying to make a Rugby World Cup Final which is too bad for the All Blacks fans, New Zealand is contract with Adidas till 2019

RWC Final Appearances & Champions:
Canterbury of NZ - 4 (2)
Nike - 4 (2)
Reebok - 1 (1)
Cotton Traders - 1 (0)
adidas - 1 (0)