Land of the rugby giants
There's been much talk this Six Nations about the giants of the rampaging Welsh back line - two inches and 11.8kg bigger on average than their English opposition a fortnight ago, the team as a whole average a staggering 107.7kg (16st 13lbs).
But just how much bigger are international rugby players than their counterparts from days gone by and what effect is it having on the game's tactics, aesthetics and injuries?
With the consent of some very kind people at Twickenham's Museum of Rugby, I've dug out statistics for every England team every decade since 1962 and spun them into detailed comparisons. The results make very interesting reading indeed.
We'll get the thoughts of Shane Williams - at 5ft 7in and 80kg a brilliant anachronism among the modern-day behemoths - on what rugby's growth spurt is doing to the sport. But first, the numbers.
I've compared the England XV to the equivalent week in the Five/Six Nations of 50/40/30/20/10 years ago, rather than the biggest or smallest of that particular year.
Why England, rather than any of the other teams in the tournament? Partly because the information was accessible, partly because the nationality feels less important than the patterns revealed. Think of England as an example, rather than the exception.
Shane Williams, Adam Jones and Alun Wyn Jones of Wales sing their national anthem prior to kick-off during the IRB 2011 Rugby World Cup. Photo: Getty
We'll begin with the average weight and height of the backs. Over the last half-century, bulk has increased by a remarkable 16.3kg per man - more than two and a half stone. Even the 1992 Grand Slam back line of Will Carling, Jeremy Guscott and Rory Underwood were almost a stone and a half lighter than the England backs who will play France this weekend. As for height, today's nine to 15 are almost three inches taller than Dickie Jeeps's boys of 1962.
1962: 78kg, 1.77m
1972: 82.8kg, 1.81m
1982: 79kg, 1.77m
1992: 85.7kg, 1.81m
2002: 92.4kg, 1.81m
2012: 94.3kg, 1.84m
If the class of 1982 looks particularly small, it was. That's what happens when you have 5ft 7in Les Cusworth at fly-half and a winger in Mike Slemen who weighed under 12 stone.
What about the average weight and height of the forwards? Today's pack averages three and a quarter stone heavier than their equivalents of 1962. They're almost three and three quarter stone heavier than the Peter Winterbottoms, Maurice Colcloughs and Peter Wheelers who beat France 27-15 in Paris in February 1982.
Even in the last decade, the average weight has gone up by 2.8kg a man, while today's forwards would tower three and a half inches over the pack that drew 3-3 with Scotland in 1962.
1962: 92.5kg, 1.83m
1972: 97.75kg, 1.89m
1982: 89.9kg, 1.86m
1992: 106.5kg, 1.88m
2002: 110.1kg, 1.86m
2012: 112.9kg, 1.92m
If we combine those figures to give us the average weight and height of an England player, the trends are even clearer.
Someone who pulls on the white shirt in 2012 is on average almost three stone heavier and three inches taller than their predecessors of 50 years ago. They are well over a stone heavier and an inch taller than the XV which completed a second successive Grand Slam in 1992 and have 4.5lbs and almost an inch on the team of 2002 that went on to win the World Cup 18 months later.
1962: 85.7kg, 1.80 m
1972: 90.7kg, 1.85 m
1982: 89.9kg, 1.82 m
1992: 96.8kg, 1.85m
2002: 101.9kg, 1.86m
2012: 104kg, 1.88m
Now let's talk tactics. What changes does Shane Williams think rugby's size explosion has triggered?
"It's a completely different game to even three or four years ago," he told me. "The players are getting bigger again, even from where they were in 2008. That clearly affects your tactics. You have to adapt your game-plan to the players you've got and the ones you will be facing.
"It's meant that teams have to be a lot more direct. Defenders are just as fast as they used to be but are two stone heavier. That makes it far harder to get round defences.
"It's why the territory game is now so huge. There are fewer line breaks, so why use needless energy trying to run the ball back from your own 22? The thinking is that you're better kicking it away and competing for the ball a further 40 metres downfield instead."
Williams, now part of the BBC's team for the Six Nations, believes the trend is impacting on the type of talents a modern player requires.
"As a back, the skill-set you have to learn now has changed. Because the game is now so physical, we will now train far harder on the less glamorous things, like being strong in contact and learning how to off-load in the tackle, rather than making a line break and then passing."
What about injuries? Each year, the Rugby Football Union, Premiership Rugby and the Rugby Players' Association conduct an injury audit of England and Premiership players. When the most recent report was released this January, Dr Simon Kemp, the RFU's head of sports medicine, said that there is "no evidence that the injury risk in the professional game is increasing".
Those within the game don't always see things quite the same way - among them Williams.
"Some of the collisions are like car crashes," he says. "When you get George North running flat out into a Manu Tuilagi, the forces involved are incredible. You get some horrific injuries from contact. You can hear half the impacts from the touchline."
After the last Lions tour, the squad's vastly experienced doctor James Robson - also Scotland's team doctor - warned that the size of players was forcing rugby towards a "watershed" moment.
"People are trying to run through the opposition, rather than around them," he said. "My hope is that coaches recognise that and we get a little bit smaller and faster and more skilful - that players win the space rather than the collision."
And so we come to the aesthetics of the game. Is rugby a better spectacle for the growing pains of its combatants, or are we in danger of losing finesse to fitness?
"It's a difficult one," admits Williams, scorer of 58 tries in 85 Tests. "What you don't see so much now is the champagne rugby, the seven-a-side rugby that people loved to watch.
"I still enjoy watching it - I used to enjoy the physical stuff, the big hits - but you won't get many 30-30 games at international level any more. Teams won't get bullied like they used to."
Will there always be room for the smaller players to stand on the shoulders of the giants, for a Williams or Leigh Halfpenny to dance and step and dart?
"I hope so," adds Williams. "Ask any big forward and they'll tell you that the players they hate tackling the most are the small nippy guys. But they may become fewer and farther between.
"It's getting harder for smaller players and it's a little bit strange seeing a Welsh back line with almost everyone over 6ft."