Rugby players. It wasn’t so very long ago that being crash-tackled and landing face down in a large puddle led to unpleasant experiences beyond the initial shock.
Those of us whose best playing days are, shall we say, behind us, remember the playing kit of old. Heavy cotton shirts that weighed you down and made you feel like you were carrying a team-mate on your back during the painful last ten minutes. This was made all the worse by on wet, muddy Saturdays when the absorption “qualities” of cotton really came into their own, effectively doubling the weight of the shirt and making you trudge around like a trainee paratrooper, but without the motivation. This, at least, was my experience.
The alternative back then, pioneered by Rugby League sides, was polyester, a man-made fibre at that time so coarse that even burly man’s-man players would baulk at the prospect of wearing one. At that time possibly the only real advantage of these polyester shirts was their inherent strength.
In terms of playing kit, those days are now well behind us. Increases in fabric technology have advanced to the point where polyester shirts are now the norm and the reasons are many.
Despite being man-made, polyester can now emulate cotton in it’s “wicking” ability. This is the way the shirt removes the moisture build up on the skin-side. Through the use of capillaries, the moisture leaves the shirt via the outside, it doesn’t remain cloying to the skin.
The fibres themselves, too, are now much thinner than they used to be. This means the “handle” is much softer, more like a natural fibre and it avoids all that highly irritating abrasion.
Better yet, while natural fibres absorb water until it evaporates, polyester is much more water-resistant. The result; if you land in that puddle I mentioned before, or you’re playing in teeming rain, you won’t end the game carrying extra weight on your back.
At the top end of the game, the advantage of having the lightest shirt possible is obvious. Fine margins mark the difference between success and failure and anything that can be used to gain even a 0.1% advantage over your opponent can mean victory.
To be fair, to most of us, these fine margins are largely irrelevant. As a social player you can improve your performance dramatically by training harder or paying more attention to your diet, however the basic principles still apply.
But what also counts is how your kit looks. With polyester you can, with the introduction of a little elastene, have a sculpted-look, fitted tight into the body if you like. Or it can drape normally.
The biggest advantage though, is in the range of designs and colours. Traditionally, rugby shirts were hoops or quarters as cotton had to be knitted by machine. Polyester, though, can be printed by dye-sublimation process. This is achieved by printing special ink onto release paper and then pressing that (under high pressure and at high temperature) onto the polyester. The ink then turns to gas and dyes itself into the fabric.
This means that you can choose any design, no matter how outrageous, and for that matter print anything else at the same time without having to go through a separate process, whether that be for a badge, sponsor logo, name or number.
Some good examples of these shirts can be found on the website of a company I am currently working with, Blue Moon Sport,www.bluemoonsport.co.uk This company was a pioneer in the use of digital sublimation equipment for rugby kits and they currently manufacture not only for club and school teams, but also for some of the top Premiership sides.