Rugby Union: England follow a flashy fashion: Steve Bale reports on the launch of the Grand Slam winners' new strip and its commercial implications

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The Independent Online
A TRIO of England players did their mannequin bit to launch England's new jersey at Twickenham yesterday. Those beside the catwalk were invited to believe that all had become sweetness and light between the Rugby Football Union and Cotton Traders, the Cheshire manufacturing company run by a trio of former England captains.

Hardly. There was the pointed absence of Dudley Wood, the Rugby Football Union secretary, and anyone else who could be said to be an RFU figurehead. But then eight months ago Cotton Traders - alias Fran Cotton, Tony Neary and Steve Smith - was threatening the RFU with legal action over the discontinuation of the World Cup jersey in favour of the traditional lilywhite.

Where the World Cup kit bore modest hoops round an arm, there are now red stripes down the outside of the arms which will hit traditionalists between the eyes as hard as a pint of Red Stripe lager. Aesthetics are not the point; this is a straight commercial opportunity for both parties and Cotton Traders' new four-year deal also allows them to design yet another jersey for the 1995 World Cup.

Jason Leonard (unlikely to return from injury in time to face South Africa in November), Dewi Morris and David Pears carried out yesterday's modelling assignment, and it was disclosed by Richard Field, the RFU commercial manager, that the players had been consulted over the design - to be worn for the first time against Canada next month.

Little else was disclosed, however, as Field, Cotton and Smith stood four-square behind the confidentiality clause that has been written into the contract. Yet when the World Cup kit was launched in March 1991 they were full of it: the RFU expected a minimum annual income of pounds 1/4 m rising to as much as pounds 2m in total over four years and Cotton Traders anticipated a market of pounds 5m-6m a year.

And when the firm's equivalent contract with the Welsh Rugby Union was announced last December, the WRU said it expected the deal to be worth a minimum of pounds 2 1/4 m over five years. But yesterday, silence: no contract figures, no sales projections, not like the RFU at all in fact.

Accordingly, one can only surmise from the Welsh figure and Cotton's comment that 'the size of the market for the England shirt is bigger than for the Welsh shirt' what the potential revenue to the RFU might be.

Whatever, the market for idiosyncractic rugby gear is evidently there. Tomorrow there is an open day and shop sale at Twickenham. What would be the main item at the sale, a colleague asked, the World Cup shirt? 'They sold out,' Smith rejoined, quick as a flash, or should that be red stripe?

(Photograph omitted)