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Rugby jerseys have come a long way, from retro jerseys being 100% cotton and boxy in shape as opposed to our sculptured high tech synthetic fabric jerseys. The technological advances in jerseys has been nothing short of revolutionary.
Traditionally, with jerseys being an all cotton affair, synthetics such as polyester now rules over cotton as more rugby sides have made that transition of incorporating synthetic fibre as the material becomes cheaper. It is scientifically proven that polyester absorbs less water which is definitely a plus when teams play in rainy conditions. Our tight synthetic fibre jerseys are disputed to limit the range of movement in which a player has. This may reflect when reaching out to catch a pass, tackling effectively or being involved in a scrum.
Scientific facts aside, we caught up with legend Cameron Shepherd with plenty of experience and wearing a range of different jerseys throughout his career, as we discussed this shift from cotton to synthetic and how it has shaped today’s game.
Is it harder to tackle in a tight jersey?
There is no doubt the new jerseys make it more difficult to tackle your opponent but in an ironic twist it has improved the defence as players know they need to lead with the shoulder otherwise you have no chance and grabbing hold of someone. When preparing for the season majority of players will get the smallest jersey possible for this exact reason and many players are now shaving/waxing their legs to make them harder to hold onto. Someone slipping of a tackle can be the difference between scoring or not scoring, winning or losing.
School boys hang on to jerseys, did you as a player, keep all you past jerseys, from being a Norths player to playing for the Wallabies?
100%! I have almost all of my jerseys from my first rep team as an 11 yr old and the way through to my wallaby kit. I try to keep one of everything. I have given away some as gifts, some to charity, and framed the special ones. I also have a pile waiting for my kids so when they are older they can enjoy them. Every jersey tells a story and I like to reminisce about my favourite moments in my rugby career.
Material of today’s jerseys vs. that of when you played?
I was there for the transition from big and baggy to tight and slick. As the game went professional and sports science became a bigger part we noticed how important it was to be as hard to tackle as possible. Many of the modern jerseys also have rubber grip sections to help catch the ball in wet/humid conditions and more recently the installation of a GPS pocket which has been one of the biggest tools now used by professional teams across the world to monitor performance. Last but not least is also the exposure of sponsors on the jersey. Sponsorship is big business and the way their brand is represented on the jersey is very important. The new material used in modern jerseys allows the graphic to be of the highest quality and stand out.
Weight and warmth?
Light weight and help in hot weather but not the greatest for keeping you warm in cold weather. Majority of players these days will wear a short sleeve or long sleeve undergarment during cold weather which fit easily under the jersey.
Major changes in technology in jersey’s such as tracking devices etc.?
The introduction of GPS tracking in the modern game for me is the major change I saw during my 12 year career as a professional. This can help not only monitor distance run but top speed, average speed and a whole range of other data acquired while tracking a player around the field. The GPS also works in conjunction with a heart rate monitor so strength and conditioning trainers to match high effort moments in the game with heart rate of the player. This is also a crucial part of training, especially pre-season, so we can review performance and improvement. Without the equipment to safely attach this technology to a player we would be unable to collect this incredible data. Lastly, something that is very new, is the ability to put a microphone on players so the fans can hear the conversation taking place on the field. This is as close to being out there as you can get and I expect this to become more and more prevalent over the next few seasons.
Back to the scientific facts, the “ionised” jersey today is said to improve player performance through an increase in blood flow and oxygen delivered to the muscles, which results in an improvement in cardiovascular endurance. This ultimately means you can go harder for longer. The modern day rugby jersey furthermore copes better with sweat as oppose to the past cotton jerseys and tend to breathe better also. For example, statistics reveal that the breathability of a synthetic t-shirt is 150 cfm (cubic feet per minute) as oppose to a cotton t-shirt which is 30 cfm. Especially, this means that modern day jerseys are lighter and tend to fit better to the individual, which means it will make a difference in on field directional performance. Our jerseys today are designed specifically to move moisture away from the skin, which helps regulate body temperature.
It is apparent that jersey technological advances have been revolutionary for the game of rugby. It has proven to boost athletic performance and individual capabilities. We are constantly gaining more and more information regarding athletes performance on field. There is no doubt that jersey technology and the change from cotton to synthetic has been a standout for the game of rugby, outputting more positives than negatives.
Soon to be introduced to Norths Rugby and sold as merchandise are the retro jerseys as we head “back to the future” (featured below).