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For rugby, how big is too big?

Posted on 17 March, 2017 at 5:10

IT WAS notable how even former Ireland and Lions skipper Paul O’Connell was remarking on the shudderingly physical nature of the exchanges in the first half of the Wales-Ireland Six Nations Test at the Millennium Stadium last Friday night.

O’Connell is only recently departed from the professional scene and lived through the increasing emphasis on power that has seen the size of players increase to such an extent that many consider rugby to be a collision sport rather than a contact one.

He would be accustomed to what occurs in the tackle and breakdown zones but remarked time and again on the actual noise emanating from each jarring crash of huge, motivated bodies. You just know Jonathan Davies and Jerry Guscott are thankful to be in the studio.

There is some debate surrounding the aesthetic and health aspects of this trend, while it was interesting to hear another Ireland captain Keith Wood express his belief that this emphasis in softening up the opposition early on before attempting a more expansive approach had actually affected the ability of Joe Schmidt’s men to implement phase two of the game plan.

It is certain that Saturday’s encounter with England will be over a similar nature however and it was interesting to encounter a study compiled by a research team on behalf of Digital Marketing and PR in conjunction with Maxinutrition ( that has illustrated the extent of the increase in size of players over the years, how it has happened and why.

In the 30 years from 1985 to 2015, the average size of the international rugby player has increased by 10kgs.

Nutritional education has been central to this development, as increased conditioning requires more and better refuelling. That sees the top-tier rugby player clocking up a protein intake of 220-300g, while the average male civilian would consume about 55g.

The study finds that international players cover between 7,000-9,000m during a Test and have 29 bouts of high-intensity effort, where they achieve a speed of 6.7m per second at any given time. Those figures reduce to 6,000-8000m and 24 bouts of high-intensity effort for what was then the Heineken Cup and continue to drop down through domestic and semi-pro leagues.

The study shows that the size, weight, speed and power of players is leading to increased tackling and alarmingly, significantly more injuries.

Rugby has been slow to catch up in terms of concussion and this has been exposed by the increase in incidents from 2.5 from 1,000 hours of rugby in 2002 to 10.5 in 2015. That compares with 17.5 for boxing that year.

The study concludes by asking the question ‘How big is too big?’ as it links just a 20% increase in the height of players to a 73% increase in inertia, which is a key aspect in sustaining concussion.

But still the hits keep coming.

Categories: Rugby