A Size and Weight Obsession at the Top Level

How well I remember my days as a youngster playing rugby for my school teams and especially for teams which in my era were based on weight and not age. Instead of representing my school at the Under 12s,13s,15s teams etc, we were members of teams called the Bantams and the Colts which were based on the weight of each individual. To be selected to play for the Bantams all the players had to weigh under 7 stones 8 pounds while to represent the Colts one had to tip the scales at under 8 stones 6 pounds – no matter what your age! Do we not now need such a weights system to allow some of our ‘would be’ leading players to represent their country at either league or union? I offer such a thought ‘tongue in cheek’ but a glance at the current weights and sizes of those who have recently been starring for the British Lions and the All Blacks  union teams and the physiques of the modern rugby league teams might indicate the need for such a revolutionary move.

The average weights of the current Lions and New Zealand teams are 14st 12lb and 15st1b in the Backs and 17st 9lb and 18st in the Forwards. With Mako Vunipola weighing in at 19st and Brodie Retallick at 19st 5lb! Enough said! A visit to any SuperLeague rugby league club’s gymnasium would reveal a mass of weight lifting equipment as an aid to the body for the seemingly endless forward drives in midfield. And any visitor would be hard pressed to find a cupboard in the changing room housing a pair of running spikes for every player as in days of yore. Both codes of rugby are seemingly obsessed with size and strength as a means for success and the smaller, sidestepping, pacy player is now a rarity behind the scrum. As is the14/15st ball playing forward capable of  opening up play in midfield and out wide with the most subtle of passes or a surprising burst of speed on the outside.

Thankfully, in the 13 a side code, Castleford are still playing a style of rugby so admired in yesteryear and thankfully sit at the top of the SuperLeague by virtue of its effect and success.

Oh for the days when gifted runners and handlers, regardless of size, like Jonathan Davies, David Watkins, Alex Murphy, Barry John, Roger Millward, Gareth Edwards, Shaun Edwards, Bev Risman, Tom Brophy and more were allowed to dictate and dominate in either code of rugby. When pace and innovation was the priority and not size and sheer strength alone.

Ray French

July 2017