The Bok group – which included Jean de Villiers, Cornal Hendricks, Willie le Roux, Beast Mtawarira and Eben Etzebeth – had travelled to the Land of the Rising Sun in search of the marginal gains that scientifically engineered kit could offer them.
Although much of the testing was done in Cape Town, all of the kit innovations were dreamt up in Japan. “We asked them what they wanted from a jersey and they said, ‘We don’t want to be tackled and we want to hold on to a teammate’s jersey’,” says Asics rugby apparel guru James Noorkoiv.
Long gone are those thick cotton rugby jerseys with reinforced collars that became water-logged before 80 minutes were up. Using 3D body imaging and a variety of lightweight materials and fabric weaves, Asics have not only produced a jersey which is alternately slippery in certain quadrants and gripper-like in others, but also lightweight body-hugging shorts and socks.
The Boks will use this particular kit until 2017 when it will undergo a further raft of re-designs, with their Asics sponsorshiop lasting another two years until 2019.
“We re-designed the jersey’s side panels for better binding in the scrum, ruck and maul when players are moving forwards together,” says Noorkoiv. “But the jersey material snaps away like an elastic band when there’s a change of direction, like when evading a tackle. The material also doesn’t absorb as much water but allows you to breathe at the same time. And the socks aid blood flow because of a graduated calf compression effect and we’ve mixed up the yarns so they fit into the boots really comfortably.”
To provide the Springboks with cutting edge World Cup kit, Asics had to be prepared to move out of their cultural comfort zone, which was traditionally athletics kit and footgear. Along the way they discovered that innovation is not only product- and research-based but is more often a state of mind.
For their part, the Boks know that if their jersey works as advertised just once in a game-changing scenario, it could alter the destiny of the team at the Rugby World Cup.