A rugby shirt, often referred to as a jersey, is a shirt worn by players of rugby league or rugby union. It usually has short sleeves, though long sleeves are common as well.
Rugby shirts, like most sports jerseys, will usually have a logo on the chest and a number on the back, though shirts not meant for competitive play will usually forgo the number. Labels of sponsorship are common, and generally appear on the abdominal area of the shirt. A traditional design of rugby shirt consists of five or six horizontal stripes or “hoops” in alternating colours. A number of football teams have adopted this pattern, such as Queens Park Rangers and Parma A.C.. Football shirts by contrast traditionally have vertical stripes.
Rugby shirts were traditionally made out of cotton, but as synthetic fabrics became cheaper they have become incorporated into rugby shirts. The two most common materials are a mix between cotton and polyester (many of these shirts are meant for supporter use, though they can be used in a rugby game), and pure polyester (these shirts are generally designed for game use).
The reason for the preference of polyester in a game situation is two-fold: firstly, polyester is harder to get hold of in a tackle situation, as it is inherently more ‘slippy’ than cotton or a cotton-blend. In addition, the increasing use of skin tight shirts further enhances this effect, as there is no loose material for a tackler to get a grip of. The other benefit of man-made fibre over cotton is that it absorbs less water and mud. As rugby is a sport played mainly in winter and/or bad weather, a cotton rugby kit can weigh around 6 to 8 lb when wet. This extra weight has to be carried by the player, in addition to running in wet, heavy ground.
Rugby league shirts often have a large ‘V’ around the neck, however more and more teams are embracing the rounded collarless design. The “V” tradition appears to have been started because shirts with a ‘V’ were cheaper than other shirts, Rugby league shirts also tend to be more colourful and extravagant in design when compared to rugby union shirts.
The extravagant colours and design of rugby league shirts are most probably a product of modern day professional football, which has been a part of rugby league’s culture for far longer than rugby union’s. Rugby league shirts or jerseys as they are often called may hold less tradition than rugby union shirts. This holds more truth among the fully professional rugby league clubs in the National Rugby League who often change the shirt design every year or two to encourage fans to purchase the latest shirt design. However, rugby league clubs are now going back to the clubs’ roots in terms of design (Manly-Warringah Sea Eagles being an example), while clubs like the Sydney Roosters, South Sydney Rabbitohs and St George Illawarra Dragons do not change their main jersey design.
The rugby shirt has, in numerous cultures, become a popular fashion item, with many clothing manufacturers producting rugby styles shirts, with the distinctive collar and hooped or squared design, which do not represent an actual club.
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