The effusive British & Irish rugby press understands that the shoes make the man. The eternal wisdom of that maxim sets us up for predicting performance at the Six Nations starting next month. Brace yourselves, as we step in it. The photoshoot trainers are our yardstick. Let’s go right down the line shall we?
Alun Wyn Jones always means business and he will hear nothing about it. Basic black with red stripes. Welsh, but serious Welsh. This choice means one of two things. Wales are going to defy recent form and a career of Gatland, and play expansive, flowing rugby. Or the black precedes the full-fledged, in-mourning black that will mark the very public end of Rob Howley’s offensive wizardry. The Pivac-Jones band is warming up.
Always the anachronistic style-setters, Guirado’s retro-chic white trainers with dark blue stripes signal a new era of French rugby. Bold, classic French rugby, full of élan and brimming with endeavor. Wait, are those the same white shoes Sergio Parisse wore at the photoshoot for Brunel’s last campaign with Italy? Checks archives…fuck, call it off. Jalibert and Dupont will never recover again. Slimani will contrive a new form of cheating. Laporte is double-dealing. World Rugby will do nothing.
The hot mess of Dylan Hartley’s tenure as England captain is personified here. At war with themselves. The workmanlike grey and blue suggests solidity and competence, a subtle signal to the heady record of Eddie Jones’ first two years. And yet. Neon orange laces must be seen as a desperate cry for help. Injuries are abundant, key positions are unsettled. Jones is playing the underdog card, and some pundits predict a backward step for the Red Rose. Given the Midlands’ abandonment of solidity and competence, consider this fair warning.
Schmidt’s side is fancied as tournament favorite, and European form suggest Ireland are rubbing the green. Yet, last we checked, only the French can wear white shoes before Remembrance Day. [Or the Irish equivalent of the June Bank Holiday – can it really be called this?!] Best’s white and grey trainers are evocative of the ultra-lightweight trainers so prominent four years ago. Or is this classic Irish passive-aggressive cover for persisting with stolid back three players of that same near past? If Earls and Kearney start, a signal of Schmidt’s overly conservative selection strategy, will the lack of finishing pace leave Irish eyes unsmiling?
The Thistle is about to bloom! Springtime in Murrayfield is near! This time it will all come together! Hope has sprung in Scottish rugby for the Townsend Era. Barclay has chosen to signal team solidarity by sticking with the dominant color motif. Confidence, surely. And yet, a closer look suggest the colors are just a bit off, and the lighter blue of the trainers do not quite complement the dark violet of the kit. Does it suggest vulnerability? A moment of mad speculative play from Russell giving points to the opposition they had on the ropes? Hogg following a beautiful, mazy long-distance try with poor defensive positioning to give the points right back? Watson earning a contentious yellow from the referee lottery? Of course, for Scotland, the pain will carry the barb of being self-inflicted by their heroes.
Are they still in the competition? Hasn’t Georgia snuck in by now? The Conor O’Shea adulation has been a bit quiet this year, but Benetton have shown signs of some improvement. Will their progress translate to the Test arena in 2018? Parisse is there as usual, but something seems different. The glorious blue of the Azzurri is ever-present in the kit. Scrolling down, however, induces blindness! Nike, what are you doing?! Is this Italy’s punishment for not qualifying for the 2018 FIFA World Cup? Will Mars Blackmon be on hand for the matches? Does anybody care?