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Thursday, September 30, 1999 Published at 13:53 GMT 14:53 UK

Stripped for success

England's players hope their new shirt will make them harder to tackle

Once upon a time rugby shirts were no-nonsense, heavy duty affairs - and if they were not ripped or caked in mud at the end of the game, then questions would be asked.

Paul Stainton: "Who should you put your shirt on for the World Cup?"
Times have changed, however, and these days strips are sleek, technologically-advanced efforts, the product of a laboratory rather than a fashion design room.

Sportswear development is now seen an integeral part of any team's World Cup campaign.

So when England take on New Zealand in Pool B, it will not just be the players taking part in a bruising encounter.

[ image: England's kit is tougher but lighter]
England's kit is tougher but lighter
Twickenham will also be the venue for a corporate showdown - as two of the most powerful names in the sports equipment field come head to head.

Both Nike, who produce England's kit, and Adidas, who are behind the All Blacks, are boasting new strips for the World Cup, which they claim will give their players an edge on the field.

The winning team on October 9 will have fired the opening salvo in the kit wars.

For England's shirts, Nike have used new stitching techniques to strengthen the weakest areas and the material has been treated to help disperse sweat.

[ image: Adidas have launced New Zealand's new kit with a huge advertising campaign]
Adidas have launced New Zealand's new kit with a huge advertising campaign
The style of England's shirt has also changed, with Nike claiming that a streamlined fit gives opponents less to get their hands on.

According to number eight Lawrence Dallaglio, the England players have been impressed with the revolutionary design.

"With the harder tackling and increased physicality in rugby now, shirts need to be stronger," Dallaglio said.

"This kit also has properties that mean you're able to sweat and not carry the weight of the shirt with you.

"And it's tapered to the lines of your body as well, so altogether it's a much better shirt."

Rubber panels

While Nike are also kitting out the South African, French and Irish squads in the World Cup, Adidas are concentrating on the biggest name in the game, New Zealand.

[ image: Lawrence Dallaglio in England's new shirt]
Lawrence Dallaglio in England's new shirt
And the kit giants claim they have achieved a breakthrough after conducting extensive scientific research into the game.

Not only are the shirts slimmer, but rubber panels have been incorporated to help players grip the ball, while the collars and sleeves have been shortened to help them elude tackles.

Jonah Lomu, who is already one of the most difficult players in the tournament to tackle, has welcomed the shirt's innovations.

"What I like most is that it's lightweight," Lomu said. "That's the best thing in it for me.

"Second most important is the fact that it fits really well - because I find the majority of opposition players cling onto my jersey."

So if Lomu is to be believed, England may find it even harder to bring down the giant wing than they did in that fateful semi-final four years ago.

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