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Rugby Union: All Blacks wear non-slips

NEW ZEALAND is not generally thought to exist at the cutting edge of fashion; indeed, it is the only country on earth where the sheepskin fleece still qualifies as haute couture. But the All Blacks are no ordinary Kiwis. By time they play Tonga in their opening World Cup match in October, Taine Randell's team will have christened a trendy set of lightweight shirts designed not only to expel sweat while retaining body heat, but to minimise the kind of handling errors that saw the greatest side on earth lose five on the bounce last season.

According to adidas, the German sportswear giants with whom the All Blacks have an exclusive kit deal, the shirts are equipped with adhesive "gripper panels" across the chest and under the arms that should, in theory, help players retain possession in contact.

"We've been smart enough to check the International Board regulations and there's nothing in there to say you can't have them," said the New Zealand Rugby Football Union chairman, Rob Fisher, who, as an IB representative, really ought to know.

In keeping with NZRFU demands, the new kit remains predominantly black, although there is a third white hoop on the socks and a white half-collar in the style of the Chinese Mao suit. Hopefully, the Mao connection will not make the All Blacks any more power crazy than they already are.

The strip has yet to be tested by the players, who will wear their traditional cotton jerseys in the forthcoming Tri-Nations matches with Australia and South Africa.

As for the other rugby-playing nations sponsored by adidas - Argentina, the United States and Western Samoa - gripper panels remain a thing of the future. "The All Blacks have a 12-month exclusivity deal on technical innovation," explained a company spokesman, Craig Lawson.