Patrick McKendry

Patrick McKendry is a rugby writer for the Herald.

Rugby: Kirwan's boys look beautiful in blue, but will it help win matches?

Super titles have been a little thin on the ground recently but for sartorial elegance the Blues, thanks to adidas, are premiers. Photo / Getty Images
Super titles have been a little thin on the ground recently but for sartorial elegance the Blues, thanks to adidas, are premiers. Photo / Getty Images

John Kirwan hasn't been slow to usher in his unique fashion sense, cultivated during a former role as coach of Italy, to the Blues, but the long shorts and powder blue strip his team wore in their first pre-season match wasn't his doing.

Rather, it was part of an experiment by adidas, the clothing supplier for all five of the New Zealand franchises, representatives from the company paying almost as much attention to the performance of different materials at Masterton's Memorial Ground, where the Blues took on the Hurricanes, as Kirwan was to his players.

The shorts, longer than the New Zealand teams usually wear and similar to European styling, were the most obvious departure from the norm, and it is understood that adidas were also experimenting with the jerseys.

As each player left the field they were interviewed by a representative of the German sportswear giant on the material's performance.

No one from adidas wanted to talk about the experiment yesterday, any benefits from which would presumably be rolled out among all of its rugby stable, but manufacturers are constantly trying to improve a material's heat transfer and need to balance the unique requirements of forwards and backs - the former needing to be able to grip each other's jerseys in scrums, the latter needing to be able to avoid the grasping hands of opponents.

Former England coach Clive Woodward was a major mover towards the tight, slippery shirts now in vogue. A firm believer in the use of technology to promote performance, he convinced jersey manufacturers Nike to change the way they did things and walked away with the 2003 World Cup. Players these days usually have to be helped out of their shirts after matches.

It is understood the Blues experiment will be continued in Sydney on Friday night when they play the Waratahs in their second pre-season hit-out.

For the season proper, the Blues will wear their normal-length shorts and a traditional strip of royal blue (home) and white (away).

Kirwan's unique style was visible in his first season last year, when he teamed a three-piece suit with trainers, and he also broke with convention when deciding his players could choose their own formal wear, rather than follow the usually rigorous team issue protocol.

*Former All Blacks first-five Andrew Mehrtens, who was recently appointed to a goalkicking coaching role at the Waratahs, has joined Sky Sport's commentary team where he will join one-time teammate and sparring partner Justin Marshall, a new columnist at the Herald.

- APNZ

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