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Land of the rugby giants

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Tom Fordyce | 11:43 UK time, Thursday, 8 March 2012

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."


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  • Comment number 1.

    And there is the reason why Rugby Union is now as dull as dish water! Huge guy runs 2 steps and falls into the ground before he hits huge guys, recycle ball, kick it, scrum, reset scrum, dull dull dull.........Give me the Dusty Hare days anytime!

  • Comment number 2.

    I think the Welsh backs are probably what the next generation of players will be like. Years ago it was unheard of to have 6'4 backs until Jonah Lomu came along and we seen what he did to the opposition. But if Jonah was around and in his prime now...and no disrespect to him but if he had the likes of North or Cuthbert on the opposite wing marking him instead of a 5'9 Mike Catt...I don't think he would have been the phenomenon he was. He was decades ahead of his time and I think in the future we will see more and more guys like North coming through and for the teams that dont...then they will be in some serious trouble.

  • Comment number 3.

    Just check out this picture!

    Never will this article be better illustrated!! :)

  • Comment number 4.

    Whilst this article is interesting of itself, it would benefit from a comparison against height/weight from the population at large. This can be obtained from Government statistics.Training methods and sports nutrition knowledge have also advanced over the years, giving coaches the ability to assist their teams to add muscle and bulk to their height.

  • Comment number 5.

    I disagree, take one look at Scott Williams try against England, great steal, kick, chase, recover and try. Fantasitc skill for a big guy :)

  • Comment number 6.

    Excellent idea for a Blog and an interesting read.

    Gone are the days of the large slow lads automatically being forwards and the small quick lads being backs! I think this trend will continue too - in terms of player size and skill set, Union will become similar to Rugby League, where it's usually hard to distinguish between Forwards and Backs from a purely physical perspective. I do hope that some of the specialisation remains in the game though, from a tactical point of view being able to create mismatches should still be a goal of attacking teams.

    Modern rugby players really are built for comfort AND speed.

  • Comment number 7.

    adzyb88 you are highlighting one nice play from 95% of not much happening.

  • Comment number 8.

    There is more to it than size though, Banahan being the obvious example.

    Also there have been many that you can compare with Lomu, but he's still the most physically awesome winger ever, though correct, wouldn't trounce opponants today like he did Underwood and Catt.

    Havn't there been less Tuigamalas as well, short 5"10 and 17-18 stone. The closest things have been Vainakolo and Tuialagi, all Polynesian. We don't seem to have produced one of these in the northern hemesphere.

  • Comment number 9.

    @ aberpenn...

    That photo is scarcely believable...

    And I agree with adzyb88, players are still showing flashes of great technical ability in amongst all the car crashes. North's back of the hand pass to Davies against Ireland was something of which Phil Bennett would've been proud!

  • Comment number 10.

    Why do you use metric measurements within your statistics and Imperial in your commentary? So nobody can contradict you without hving to translate your measurements?

  • Comment number 11.

    The bump and grind style of modern rugby union is repetative and boring - no skill required, just plenty of lard. Give me rugby league any day.

  • Comment number 12.

    #8 "Also there have been many that you can compare with Lomu, but he's still the most physically awesome winger ever, though correct, wouldn't trounce opponents today like he did Underwood and Catt."

    Ya I agree...Lomu is still the biggest most explosive winger of all time...but with the way these guys are growing it wont be long before we see more like him.

    and as @Superha83 said....these big guys have ball handling skills as well...look at Sonny of the best passers and off loaders in the game and he is giant.

  • Comment number 13.

    @Jamesmathew but Sonny Bill learnt his skills in League, a lot of Union players lack strong core skills.

  • Comment number 14.

    I'd like to see the same stats for the Southern Hemisphere teams. I suspect they're probably a few years ahead of the North.

  • Comment number 15.

    My dad met Lomu once, he's 5'10" and said wherever you stood, you were in his shadow.

    Thing is with Lomu, is his technical skills where not much cop. If you watch a lot of his tackling, he just grabs players by the scruff of the neck and tries to drag them into touch. As awesome a runner with ball in hand as he was, I don't remember too many deft offloads or long passes.

    He definitely set the bar by which backs are now judged, it just took a while for the rest to catch up.

  • Comment number 16.

    #13 Very true and I'm not saying these huge backs have the ball handling skills of classy centers or league players but they are certainly no slouches and can only improve...natural evolution and coaching will take these guys to the next level of skills its only a matter of time.

  • Comment number 17.

    Whoooh! Lomu was out of international game by 24 (was it?) his skills would have improved by then, until then he didn't need to offload to a lesser runner.

    As he got older and slowed, his skills would have improved and were doing.

  • Comment number 18.

    This trend has been obvious for a number of years to all those involved in the game what I would like to see though is more anaylsis on the skill of these big men.

    Everyone comments on the size of these guys and make no mistake they are huge but I've yet to see hear a commentator highlight in detail the skills these guys have.

    For example why has Dave Denton been such a good ball carrier in this years 6 nations? He's no bigger than most 8's.

    In my opinion it is because he shifts the weight of the defender therefore targetting the arms rather than the shoulders of the defender when seeking contact. His size helps him in the tackle no doubt about it, but it is his ability to move his feet and accelerate at the defender's weak spot combined with his size that causes the line breaks when they come.

    I'd like a comparison on the overall impact speed across a 15 has had on the game if the data exists. Gethin Jenkins isn't one of the best props in the world because he's just big (they all are at that level) it's because he is big and has pace. Even Allan Jacobsen who in no way has the appearance of a professional sportsman is pretty quick for a man that plays his position!

    Size is important but without speed and skill it's still a waste of time and always will be as it's easy to replicate with selction/gym programmes.

  • Comment number 19.

    There is no point in just being big eg Hape Banahan though as an Englishman I hate to say it the current welsh backs are ball players as well as big. Its a shame way the modern game is going ,one of the reasons England have such a stilted attack was going for the tindalls at the expense of gifted runners like Mathew Tait deemed too small for the modern game.

  • Comment number 20.

    Growing up in the eighties and being of small stature, I liked the idea that rugby was a sport for people of various shapes and sizes - big, small, short, tall. It seems a shame that this is no longer the case - at least at the top level, where we all aspire to when we're young. It's going the same way as sports such as tennis, swimming and basketball. Sadly, it looks as if I'm going to have to suggest to my son that he considers playing football - Messi shows that size doesn't matter.

  • Comment number 21.

    I am glad Banahan has been mentioned. He is absolutely one dimensional and was so easily rendered ineffective by the Welsh defence in the warm-up game pre-world cup.

  • Comment number 22.

    Give it up with the League comments guys, no one cares. League will never expand further than the north of England, Australia and Auckland NZ.

    I don't know why some of you are complaining i think rugby is now as entertaining as ever. Look at the world cup for example, do you really think the 2007 or 2003 were better quality?

  • Comment number 23.

    @Cmcdermo73 that one moment was one of a few; George North’s early break, Scott Williams' clear break and missed pass (for which he was ashamed, having not drawn the man). Farrell's dink over the top was nice enough, what made it better was that absolute smash he got for it. It's not all about 50 yard runs, it's the whole game. That match had absolutely everything; my heart was in my mouth for 80 minutes. Nerves can account for the slight lack of creativity but in all honesty the defence was brilliant; huge hits, last ditch tackles, tap tackles, blitz defence. A 0-0 draw in football can still be an amazing game, the same applies to rugby. Perhaps you missed the flare and skill on show at the opening weekend Ireland v Wales. Further back you should watch Wales v Fiji in the world cup. Clearly I'm a fan of Wales but you get this rugby some NZ and OZ and I enjoy watching the French combine power and flare as well as the Irish. England played their part in that Wales game, they upset Wales and in all honesty they weren't abysmal in attack either, I was slightly nervous when they got ball in hand from deep. Dickson was electric and Farrell one for the future.

  • Comment number 24.

    Interesting article. What's fairly interesting, well to me anyway, is that the heights in the English backs stayed pretty much the same, 1.77 or 1.81 until 2012. However in this time the weight pretty much steadily climbs with a decent jump around the time professionalism hit. I guess no big surprise there as players can now commit more time to train and equally an attitude shift.

  • Comment number 25.

    That photo: Is Phil Bennet sitting down or George North standing on a chair? Crikey!
    I remember 30 years ago, the local rugby club second rows were about 6'1", at best 6'2", and the backs were all around 5'7" or so... And I remember Robert Norster, second row for Wales and 6'3" or 6'4", outjumping Wade Dooley at 6'7"... and we all thought at first that Terry Holmes at 6'1" was far too tall for a scrumhalf. But those boys could play, flippin' 'eck!

  • Comment number 26.

    Copus, I agree, when Shane stopped him one on one 10 yards out with a clear run in, that was it for me. No disrespect to Shane but he wouldn't stop a quality 18 stone winger at that range.

  • Comment number 27.

    'I don't know why some of you are complaining i think rugby is now as entertaining as ever. Look at the world cup for example, do you really think the 2007 or 2003 were better quality?'
    The 2003 and 2007 world cups were definitely more entertaining than the 2011 one, which to me was the dullest one so far. The best game there was Japan v Canada which provided some real excitement out of the bigger teams perhaps Wales v Ireland? The final was dull, which France had snoozed their way there, most of the quarter finals were pretty staid as well and the group stages hadn't offered much. Comapre Wales v Fiji in 2011 and 2007. In 2007 an electric game of back and forth in 2011 a one sided rout.

    So many of the big teams turned out routinely dull games Scotland, England, Argentina, South Africa and France all failed to deliver pretty much a single interesting game. Even New Zealand only really had one, the semi final against Australia which wasn't really a classic that will go down in history.

    From what I understand the atmosphere in New Zealand was great, which is something, but what was shown on the pitch wasn't up to the previous standards. Is that down to the size of the players? A bit too many teams just trying to bash their way through but as it seems to be working why change? If suddenly we had several in his prime Shane Williams' coming onto the scene perhaps it would.

  • Comment number 28.

    Well thats your opinion but i strongly disagree.

  • Comment number 29.

    I believe Lomu would still have been phenomenal now. I think a number of people here have forgotten that he did not just bump off relatively small guys like Tony Underwood and Mike Catt, he did the same to pretty much everyone. Watch again the superb match between France and NZ in the 1999 WC semifinal. The commentator Steve Smith makes exactly that point as Lomu smashes through half a dozen French forwards and backs to score his first of two tries.
    I suppose one of the many reasons it was a great match was that ultimately he was eclipsed by his diminutive counterpart Dominici. Of course, that was then, and the article is about current trends no longer being conducive to such contrasts. More's the pity if it is true, but it's easy to miss the simple point, amongst all the statistics, that Shane Williams was still first choice until his retirement only a matter of months ago. And it's hard to imagine that players like Robinson and Dominici would not also be first choices in most teams today.

  • Comment number 30.

    Fair enough, but care togive me the reasons why you thought 2011 was better? What were the outstanding games for example?

    I mean in a straight run off of the finals I hope you'd agree that both 2003 and 2007 out shone 2011?

  • Comment number 31.

    The change in Rugby Union laws and uplift in size of players has slowly made the game a lot less attractive, It is almost impossible for any referee to fairly and impartially interpret the laws due to the ambigous rule changes that have taken place over the last 30 years. We also have the size and speed problem of the latest players who still play on the same size pitches of yesteryear, it necessarily follows that if the players are much larger, more powerful and fleet of foot they need either larger surface areas to play on or less players on the pitch.
    But most of all stop the ambiguity of the laws! It is dreadful spectacle to watch.
    Comments please?

  • Comment number 32.

    You're right rsmatthews but where are the Williams' Dominicis and Robinsons of today? Are they being overlooked at early levels for not being big enough? or are they out there and just not getting the headlines?

  • Comment number 33.

    What do we expect? If we look at other Oval Ball professional sports what do we see? Why does the scrum not work in Union? Why is it laughable in League? Why did American Football get rid of it altogether and call it a scrimmage? Watch a whole game of American Football and see how many times they have to attend to a player injured on the ground and compare that to Union? Padding anyone?

  • Comment number 34.

    "You're right rsmatthews but where are the Williams' Dominicis and Robinsons of today?"
    My view is that phenomenal players, whether small or large, are just that - a phenomenon and they only come along once in a while. Lomu was freak of nature - very fast and incredibly powerful; but Williams was as well - again very fast but with trickery instead of power.
    Skill and speed are the most important attributes of these great players because they determine whether they will beat their man, while size merely dictates how they try to beat him.

  • Comment number 35.

    @ 33: The scrum doesn't work in Union because of the obsession with 'the hit'.

    When I played rugby in school (in NZ) there were no collapsed scrums. The packs lined up, bound together, took the stain when the ref said to and the hooker tapped for the HB to put the ball in. Then the pushing started, with the front rows already engaged. So much safer, no slipped bindings but you still had a competitive scrum.

    Get rid of the hit and see about 5 minutes a game transferred from resets to the ball in play.

  • Comment number 36.

    rsmatthews, 1999 Semi, look at what Lomu was 'bumping off' there though, Bernat-Salles and Dominici were great runners, but you their names don't spring to mind wen thinking of great deffensive wingers.

    He never bumped off Garbage-osa, 'cos he just got himself out of the way.

    How would he have done bouncing off, Ben Cohen, Lote Tiquiri, or Rougerie in 2003? could name a few more for the next WC.

  • Comment number 37.

    A better example than the Lomu one is JPR Williams, he is still lauded in parts of Wales as being one of the best full backs of all time. But in reality is advantage came enitrely from his size which was equivalent to a present day back line player.

    Obviously the pro-era has brought in more advanced training regimes and discipline so giant players are honed into fast agile athletes the likes of Sonny Bill Williams or Ma'a Nonu; such that guys with raw bulk like an old fashioned JPR are now more than just big lumps, and hence able to get over the try line more than half a dozen times in their entire carreers.

  • Comment number 38.

    Jason Robinson: Approx 5ft 7" i think... and growing up watching him was an absoloute delight!

  • Comment number 39.

    @22 iluvsalesharks

    You don't have to like league (though I don't see why or why you can't like both really) but that doesn't mean you can't appreciate the handling skills regularly on show. Better handling and off-loading is obviously necessary in league given the limited no. of tackles. Sonny Bill exemplifies how those skills were developed in league but also successfully transferred to union. The reason people always note SBW is because his off-loading etc is still on a different level to most and that's from playing league.

    You might not like RL as I said but it's still a relevant point mate.

  • Comment number 40.

    Rugby is fast becoming a game for freaks at the top level. Rugby used to require such a range of skills and body types that if you had the talent you could usually find a position to play almost no matter what size or shape you were. Now though, when you hear of players of 6'3" or 6'4" and 14 stone being described as too small even in the amateur club game you have to wonder where things are going. It's not just rugby mind - there are plenty of other sports going down the same route in the professional game. Basketball has always been like this of course, but now other sports like cricket & tennis are going the same way at the top level. Many of the top ladies in tennis are now 6 feet or over, and there are a significant number of male players who are 6' 3"+. Compare this to the fact that only 0.7% of women in the USA are 5'10" or over and only 3.4% of men are 6'3" or over. In cricket fast bowlers are now often 6'5" or 6'6", and many batsmen are now coming in not much behind. Even in football players are getting taller - if you're under 6 feet tall you have practically no chance of making it to the top as a central defender unless you are exceptionally skilled, and to be a goalkeeper you'll need to be even taller.

    I realise that elite sports are always going to attract exceptional physical specimens at the top level, but where rugby is concerned as the size of the players becomes more and more significant in the amateur club game as well I can see a time when there is simply going to be too much risk of injury for smaller players who want to play ordinary club rugby. You can be as brave as you want with all the correct skills, but if you're 5'8" and 10 stone regularly coming up against against players of 6'6" and 16 stone you're simply going to come off second best. I remember a few years ago before the game was completely professional when one of the minor midland county sides did well and got drawn against one of the top counties. The coach didn't want the match to go ahead because he was worried that his side composed mostly of club players from small provincial market towns was going to be up against a team of what were effectively professional players. It's one thing for a semi-pro football team to draw Man U in the FA Cup, but it's very different when the similar thing happens in rugby because of the sheer physicality of it. How many average club players could stand a full-on hit from a top professional player without getting injured these days?

    Lightweight rugby anyone?

  • Comment number 41.

    Yeah, light weigt Rugby, light weigt boxing, light weigt rowing, light weigt Judo and all sorts of things,

    How about heavyweight marathon running? A 13-26 mile race for those over 15 stone? My 1 hr 49 for the half might do me ok in a veterans race.

  • Comment number 42.

    @# 36. NZ vs ENG in '02? Phil "Raging Bull" vickery (that guy who was 5lbs shy of 20st), Dallaglio, plus JS-D and some other guy tackling with all the conviction of a determined...thing that isn't very determined...

    Just watch the video
    skill people are saying is gone from the game now is only a benefit if it entertains the audience, it is only the means to an end. it has got to the point now where teams will run 10 - 12 phases of crash ball before the backs even get a look in. running, fluid rugby is what most people want to see, the only feasible option i see is to try cutting no. 8 and a centre for a few off season friendlies and see what happens. It might be worth the compromise for the added space and dynamism it could give the game. Just my 2 cents

  • Comment number 43.

    As a species, humans are getting bigger. This may be exaggerated by rugby players in general, but the liklihood of players getting smaller is non existent. Although I hope there'll always be the likes of Shane Williams. It shows that the game is playable even at the top level by people of all sizes. Perhaps the answer is wider pitches. I know that would be problematical because of current stadium sizes, but not insurmountable. Perhaps then we'd see more wingers taking outside lines, more centres finding space and even more channels near set pieces.

  • Comment number 44.

    Size is irrelevant, as proven by the England vs Wales game where the bigger men did not steam roll their way to victory. It is the ridiculous rules that are designed to make the game boring that is creating the requirement for these giants. Just a minor few changes could speed the game up and make stamina king;
    • After 5 seconds at the base of the ruck the ball is declared out. That would speed the scrum half decision making or he’ll have a back rower all over him. Also we would see just how fit these huge men are, when they cannot catch their breath waiting around the back of the ruck area for 10 to 15 seconds after each phase
    • Allow any mark to be kicked into touch and the defending team gets the lineout put in. It will focus minds on keeping the ball in hand instead of ‘Playing the territorial game’
    • Put a 30 second limit on line outs from ball off to back in play.
    • Change the way the scrum is formed, so the just front rows engage first, to ensure correct binding (easy for the ref to check) and then after one second or the remainder engages but no push. Once set the ref can call the game back on so you can push to their heart’s content .
    I love the game but it is fast approaching the status of Formula 1 i.e. key issues blown out of all portion and over analyzed (Strettle’s non try was a prime example) because so little happens that they have to become significant, otherwise there is nothing to talk about.

  • Comment number 45.

    Some good points raised, but if anyone doesn't think that Lomu would cut it in this day and age needs to watch more videos of him, it wasn't just fullbacks like Mike Catt getting smashed, it would take three sometimes four players to stop him including forwards. Hope the Guy gets well too, a true great of the game.

  • Comment number 46.

    @#42, also look at those Englishmen lying blatantly all over the wrong side of the ruck slowing down the ball! every single time. I'd forgotten how that little key to England's success in the '02-'03 era was so completely ignored by referees of the era. Thank goodness the breakdown is now refereed properly allowing positive, creative attacking teams to win RWC's! and 6N grandslams!

  • Comment number 47.

    Didn't take long for the welsh to tell us how good they are! (or not in my view)

  • Comment number 48.

    GM Massingbird - I suggested reducing team size because moving the stands back is never going to be financially viable. Having a weight cap is either going to create a third code or force the players to play and train within themselves. The thing that makes the game great is the passion of the players - nothing quite like watching a Lewis Moody chasing a restart, I think that drive is a consequence of training without compromise. Making the players train within themselves is only going to make them play within themselves.

  • Comment number 49.

    Something that hasn't been mentioned but that might need addressing is the issue of illegal performance-enhancing drugs.

    It is clear that drugs such as anabolic steroids & growth hormone are being used at the elite level in many sports. The question is; are they being used in international rugby union?

    I think the big physical transformations of some international players in what seems to be a relatively short period could make one suspect use of steroids etc.

    So, perhaps some of the big increases in size are linked to steroid use.

  • Comment number 50.

    46: Too true, it's only the English which do this...oh no wait it is everyone!

  • Comment number 51.

    That 1/2p is the highest point scorer in the 6N this year thus far with Wales yet to play Italy probably underlines the fallacy of the argument in this article.

  • Comment number 52.

    Who would win on their best day....the current All Blacks or Wales?

  • Comment number 53.

    Something which might halt/ reverse this trend is limiting the number of substitutions. At the moment four or five forwards are substituted every game. It means some players can get away with being too big to last 80 minutes. If only three subs were allowed, regardless of injuries, coaches would wait till near the end to change any players. Forwards might have to slim down a bit. It would also end the disruptive effect of mass second-half substitutions.

  • Comment number 54.

    You can't limit the size of the player, it would be discrimination .

    But reduce/remove tactical substitutions. Players have to play 80 mins.. If a player is deemed unfit to continue (by team doctor) he is unavailable for at least 8 days to recover..

    If a team does not have a front row, and passive scrusm are used, all scrums should be moved 10 metres towards the try line of the team without a front row..

    No blood bin replacement, so no players get a 10 min breather..

    The behemoths will have to pace themselves, space will occur in the 2nd half. The likes of Shane, Jason etc would relish the space generated

  • Comment number 55.

    Oops, covered when I was typing!

  • Comment number 56.

    Have ligament & tendon injuries increased in rugby union over the last few years? If so, it could be another indication that steroids are being used by some players. There seems to be some evidence that anabolic steroid use may increase the chances of ligament or tendon ruptures.

  • Comment number 57.

    #52 Undoubtably, on their best day Wales would beat New Zealand at their best ... the trouble is Wales never seem to have their best day, but NZ produce it most of the time.

  • Comment number 58.

    This article would have made a whole lot more sense if all the measurements were in stones/pounds and feet/inches - I don't know my own height and weight in metric!

  • Comment number 59.

    #57 Yes, I hear that the IRB are poised to cancel rugby now that it has been perfected by Wales.

    Wales have undoubtably demonstrated this by coming 4th in the RWC. It was clear to all that on their day they would have beaten France, who should've beaten NZ, making Wales the moral victors of the 2012 RWC. There convincing wins over Ireland, Scotland and England's new look team that were in way influenced by three separate controversial referees decisions are just further proof that no one will ever beat this Welsh side.

  • Comment number 60.

    I like the idea of returning to injury only subs but I don't think it's a solution to this 'problem' (is it really a problem?). The majority of the big players are fit enough to last the 80, look at how many of the Welsh backline get subbed without injury not many, so cutting out tactial subs won't stop that.

    In terms of the scrum the easiest thing for me would be to create binding handles on props shirts. Back in my playing days it was easy to get a proper bind as you had a great big chunky jersey to grab hold of. Now with the age of the skin tight top, that normally requires assistance just to get it on, no wonder it's tough to get a bind in the few seconds you have. Either require the props to weat looser shirts or have the binding handle bits of cloth down the side and you change this.

  • Comment number 61.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • Comment number 62.

    jamesmathew, with refernce to your first comment about Jonah Lomu, surely that is what defines a fantastic player in any sport...being ahead of their time. Rugby Union may be changing but it always has been and always will be, i would not be supprised to see the next flock of talent at 5'0. I agree some of the beauty has gone but i'm certain it will come back :)

  • Comment number 63.

    #59. "Yes, I hear that the IRB are poised to cancel rugby now that it has been perfected by Wales. "

    LOL...brilliant. Ya there is an air about Wales that they are the best team in the world yet this team has achieved nothing whatsoever.
    If the first 3 6N games were ref'd correctly they could be 0 for 3.
    Where is all the arrogance coming from?

  • Comment number 64.

    I agree with @45. If Lomu was playing now he'd still be one of the world's best. What made him so good wasn't just his size and speed, but also his skill. There were some big defenders that he embarrassed with some of his side steps.

    I hope the big man recovers from illness very soon.

  • Comment number 65.

    I totally agree with the comments of one has come close to him in regards power and effectiveness...I was only making a comparison that some of these guys now are more in his mould then players were before. If Jonah was playing now and in his prime he would still be the best winger in the world no doubt its just he wouldnt have it as easy as he had back then.

  • Comment number 66.

    Why the concentration on the six nations? The two top teams in world rugby are New Zealand and Australia. Although Lomu was a New Zealander his home country has not sought to stick with this model. Why? Because they rate skill more than size. Over the years I have looked at backs who came on the scene in The British Isles as lithe swift young men who have been turned into huge parodies of themselves as coaches and trainers sought to add muscle. Their skill levels dropped and so did their speed. They did this to Brian O'Driscoll until someone said enough and he returned to his previous shape and with it a return of his speed and agility.

  • Comment number 67.

    Have to agree with the comments on professionalism changing the game. Gone are the days of Policemen, Builders and Farmers up front and Lawyers and Doctors in the backs, all meeting after work on Friday to chat about the international the next day...
    As a pro there's no way you're not going to get bigger if you can focus day in day out on strength training instead of having to do your 'paid' job then heading to evening training after work. As for Lomu, there are always exceptions to the rule, he was massive for the time but wouldn't stand out now size-wise

  • Comment number 68.

    SwampPuppet, what actual evidence is there of steroid use? What can be done to prevent it?

  • Comment number 69.

    #63 "Ya there is an air about Wales that they are the best team in the world yet this team has achieved nothing whatsoever."

    Except a triple crown.... so far.....

    The only controversial decision in the Scotland game would not have affected the result had the try been awarded. Wales are playing some of their most exciting rugby this year and, reffing decisions aside, they still had to put themselves in winning positions away to Ireland and England, no mean feat in itself.

    As a rugby fan, I applaud the style of exciting rugby they are playing. Lets hope more teams adopt such a style.

  • Comment number 70.

    The case of Caroline Spelman's son is one example of steroid use in elite level rugby players. But do you know of any other well-documented cases SwampPuppet ?

  • Comment number 71.

    This is all enforcing my idea for weight limited rugby teams (like you have in boxing).

    You could have bantem and cruiser weight leagues?! Aggregate weight of the team would dictate so you wouldn't discriminate individuals.

    I used to love playing rugby when I was at school when everyone's size was closer matched - but when I got to college I just kept getting smashed by much bigger lads so gave up! Would love to play rugby again now, but the size of some of the players (even wingers) is frightening now.

  • Comment number 72.

    #69. Keep_It_Blue

    Come on now...a triple crown...thats not even a proper tournament so lets scrap that.
    And if Scotland had been given that try it could very well have lifted their spirits and whos to say they wouldn't have come back and won.
    And also if the ref in the Ireland game had been given a straight red like he should have for one of the most distusting spear tackles I've ever seen...well Ireland would certainly have played a different game for the last 10 minutes to hold out for victory.

    Im not saying Wales aren't a great team..I think they are and I love watching them but at the moment they have proven nothing. They failed twice to beat a SH team and have yet to beat a top 4 world rankings team.
    Im a big fan of watching Wales rugby...but there is too much hype for a potentially great team...cos at the moment they are good...not great...and if France spoil their grand slam attempt in 2 weeks then it will be a hallow victory of the 6N.

  • Comment number 73.

    #68 human growth hormone is the weapon of choice these days. There is no blood test for it. But you can see the effects. Prolonged use gives 'HGH gut'. google images for that. Even light use splits the stomach muscles as internal organs expand.
    With aas you get the capped shoulder muscles and gynecomastia (b*tch tits) where oestrogen your body makes fighting all the testosterone make your breasts come to a point. Check for scars around the nipples to see if this has been corrected. Basically an anatomist can tell. But no one cares. Take football. The clubs don't want 95% of their staff banned. That's expensive. The players don't want it. The PFA don't want it, its their members. The sponsors don't want it. Make the sport look dirty. Fifa won't want it. Their solution is to make the players wear long shorts so you don't see bloated premier league thighs and book them for taking their top off, flexing anabolic muscles in front of an ignorant public. The anabolic era will only go away once the genetic era is ushered in. Then how will you ever test for that? Sport was trashed in the 80's. Wait until you are in your 40's to compete. They can't stay on the drugs for their whole lives. Then you can compete against men again, and not biologically engineered machines.

  • Comment number 74.

    Good tackling technique is adequate to combat physical size in almost all cases. What the ever increasing size of players has done, is shift the focus away from technique, to the detriment of everyone. Good handling skills and good tackling should be key essentials whatever your size, whoever you play for.

  • Comment number 75.

    Is it merely coincidence that during the very period in question here there has been an absolute explosion in both the potency and availability of performance enhancing drugs? Just look at the training regimes and physiques of todays players and compare to those of even 10 years ago......

  • Comment number 76.

    Interesting blog and comments .......

    My two pence worth:

    Yes professionalism has a lot to do with the size and shape of players as has the increase in understanding diet; recovery etc etc

    Yes players can devote themselves 100% to the game but the same can be said of almost every sport. Have you seen the size if Chris Hoys or V Pendleton's thighs and compared them with the view of cyclists from 10, 20 , 30 years ago!

    More people are going to the gym and looking after their bodies more with better lifestyles so it would be interesting to see if teh population as a whole we getting bigger as well - we all know obisity is becoming an issue so bulk must be invreasing form post war britian.

    Some of the rule changes have moved the emphasis away from the more traditional "forward" play ie contested Rucks and mauls and out into the "backs" where speed gile and skill were required.

    This has resulted in a more power based terratorial kicking game - which frankly can be bloody boring with players trying to smash their way though. So Size becomes an issue.
    ( I will not mention the risk of ending up with a Son of League style game -- oops)

    We need to remember that there are different levels of the game ; That of the beefed up power house international and that of the Saturday afternoon lardy who comes in all shapes and sizes and refuses to ever retire.

    So while I don't think we will ever stop all shapes and sizes from playing the game, Untill the emphasis moves away at the upper end of the scale from the Big is best only the Big boys will be considered as internationls
    You think i'm joking well one of the charges that was leveled at Neil Back was he was too small to play international rugby!

  • Comment number 77.

    Very good article. But all you England fans, the RFU look set to appoint a S. African coach so brace yourself for the appearance and re-appearance of a raft of massive meatheads and 10 years of brutal, attritional, hyper-aggressive, percentage based demolition rugby, and very little sparkling champagne style. Very little silver-ware either I expect. Which is not what I want to see or support at all.

    True, league makes good TV but is incredibly boring to watch in the stadium. I think the size increase and lack of passing play, even in this young welsh side, has placed more and more emphasis on good camera-work to pull it off. It is not great to watch.

    Lastly, the impact of size and collision on the players. This Wales side are young and much is made of their building for the next WC, but I bet half of them will be crocked by then - ruined ankels and knees. In the longer term, the incidence of degenerative nervous system condidtions, e.g. Motor neurone disease and MS is high among boxers and in S. African rugby players and has been linked to repeated head damage.

    Not my favorite kind of rugby for all the above reasons.

  • Comment number 78.

    A similar thing has happened in football.
    A statical run on the premier league shows an average 6" increase in size of goalkeepers since 1966. Except Arsenal it is also now a standard for centre Backs & forwards 6'3" minimum - so as a young player if you fit under the tape measure in any year you are out, cast aside as not having the potential, your boots filled by someone bigger.
    Back to rugby, it is far far more athletic than it used to be, and for me at least so much more similar to League in appearance as to bore the socks off me now.

  • Comment number 79.

    greyghost thanks for the fulsome praise.....yes we are a good side....on course for a third grand slam in 8 seasons...but i dont know of any welsh supporter claiming we are the finished article yet....but clearly the future of the wales national side looks bright.

    james please stop trying to rewrite history...the ireland wales games has been and amount of what if or might have beens will change the fact that wales won.....outscoring the irish by three tries to one......same goes for your bizarre claims about the wales scotland game....even if logan's knock on had not been spotted scotland would still have needed more than two converted tries to overhaul wales...and before you mention laidlaw's score remember that if logan had been awarded a try the passage of play would have been in a quite different place and there would have been no try for where on earth were scotland going to get 15 points from in the last 15 for goodness sake james get real and smell the have won every game in this championship and are on course for a grand slam....we won in ireland and in england.....we have scored more tries than every team weve played.....and no amount of if this had happened or if that had happened will change any of this......

  • Comment number 80.

    You only hate us because we're winning again.

    We're going to enjoy it while it lasts. But don't make us out to be arrogant, because we're not. So quit being bitter.

  • Comment number 81.

    The five second rule at the back of a scrum should be implemented, although from when the ball is deemed playable, which might be hard to regulate. Maybe 5 seconds from when it isn't in contact with a player. And scrums desperately need sorting. But in terms of size, all it needs is for coaches to focus less on size and more on skill, perhaps enforcing a limit on gym time for each player in a given week, leaving more time to focus on skill. Once they aren't allowed to be in the gym as long, you will see skills improving again.

  • Comment number 82.

    As an Englishman it is of course hard to see Wales being so strong (physically and in ability) but you have to admire them. I did a blog about Wales going for the Grand Slam...

  • Comment number 83.

    Can you put these measurements in stones and feet and inches please?

  • Comment number 84.

    Lomu was an amazing physical specimen but not particularly skilful. The George Norths of this world are.
    Griff, you talk about the tackle on Farrell, which it's true was excellent. But, if it's the one I'm thinking of, it was followed by a textbook layback by Farrell. So what in fact did it achieve for Wales? It stopped Farrell, but England kept possession and attacking momentum.
    Wales are the best team in the 6 Nations, and have bigger players on average. But they didn't walk all over England. It's not only size that counts.

  • Comment number 85.


    I enjoyed your blog, but I think you and many others miss the point. Forget the WC and just focus on the now. The Welsh team has been building momentum post WC and the culmination was the last win against England. It has been argued, very tiresomely, over the past weeks that the wins against England and Ireland were somehow just lucky. This theory is flawed in the respect that it has been conveniently overlooked by both Irish and English supporters that their teams were simply not good enough on the day. Instead the respective managements, and supporters, would be more productively employed focusing on areas of weakness in an attempt to improve the overall performance. Luck should really not be considered at international level.

    We are beginning to see the fruition of 4+ years of hard work on the Welsh squad. It no longer matters so much that 1 or 2 players are not available due to injury, the strength in depth that has been developed means that it is almost a case of like for like replacements. This is the scenario that top nations have enjoyed for years. NZ have on several occasions fielded what could be considered a second team and have still done the job. Much credit has to go to Gatland for having faith in talented youth and giving them the opportunity to develop within the squad environment. This is the template for success that should be followed by all teams.

  • Comment number 86.

    If you have watched RU religiously in each of the last 5 decades, and understood it, you will know that the major international games today are utterly tedious. That is partly due to a toughening up of the rules to make the game safer - and fair enough - but largely due to 15 big blokes trying to muscle 15 other big blokes out of the way, with very little finesse or individual skill on show. Shame.

  • Comment number 87.

    I think the size of players, including the backs, has been driven by the scrum, particularly the number of scrums per match. Perhaps if their were less scrums given the size of players would reduce and we'd go back to the freer flowing game of the 60-90's. Todays players are simply huge and while 'big hits' are great to watch, I'd prefer to see more skill in getting around the opposition rather than through them. I think the adoption of the free kick rather than the scrum for more infringements would really help kick start that...

  • Comment number 88.

    Rugby changed before Lomu.

    It was John Kirwan who was the first of the big backs.
    Until JK, rugby had a position for guys of all shapes and sizes, tall and thin, short and squat, mall and fast, big and athletic. JK was the size of a (then) No8 on the wing.

    With him, 6ft 2 and 15 stone became entry level for backs.

  • Comment number 89.

    BucksWelsh, thanks for reading and glad you enjoyed. I certainly don't think Wales were lucky by any means. I think Ireland could have closed it out, particularly when Sexton went for points rather than territory from the half-way line, and a stronger England team would have been more clinical, but there's little question (begrudgingly) that Wales are a better team than both. And I firmly believe that glaring refereeing mistakes aside, the better team on the day always wins a match (goes for any sport really).

  • Comment number 90.

    So the average back is 20% bigger than 50 years ago. Figure in that the average man is at least 10% bigger than 50 years and its really not that much. Its a matter of how fit and strong they are not heavy.

  • Comment number 91.

    "greyghost thanks for the fulsome praise.....yes we are a good side....on course for a third grand slam in 8 seasons.."

    I've heard it said by my English colleagues that Wales can only complete grandslams in post-world cup years when everyone else is rebuilding. I'm not sure they are completely right, but 2008, 2012... assuming you do win a GS, it's a bit of a coincidence don't you think? Peaking way too soon perhaps? or just slightly too late? Still it's nice to see that Gatland is now a great coach again.

  • Comment number 92.

    Now that playing rugby can be their full time job it is no surprise that players are more muscular. However, I am not sure how this also would also makes them taller.

    Although, as a non-giant, I am disappointed to see rugby move away from a game for all shapes and sizes I don't believe it is the bigger players that have made the game duller.

    Like others I'd like to change the rules to encourage a quicker game.

    My number one rule change would be to have the ref call "ball playable" when it is at the back of a static ruck / maul. The team would then have 3s to play the ball or turn it over to an opposition scrum. I think this would eliminate the attacking team messing about trying to get organised (which also gives the defense time to get ready) resulting is more ball in the hands and a more open game.

    The other problem with dull rugby is time wasted at scrum time. Allow the linesman to come on to the pitch at scrum time to ref the blindside and call penalties. Furthermore after 2 failed attempts at scrum go uncontested for that scrum and get the game going again.

    Not sure how you rid the game of kicking tennis. Good kicks do create excitement, but most do not. Though perhaps a harsh rule: if a player kicks the ball away whilst running with players outside him, then said player should be shot.

    Of course I don't believe any of these changes will make the players smaller.

  • Comment number 93.

    Really interesting read. It's good to hear that so many people are leaning towards the SKILL factor in out of the three S's.

    Unfortunately due to the increase in size and athletic ability throughout most of the international rugby teams, space is

    going to be in short supply.In my opinion HGH is used as a matter of course having trained in gyms where some of the top

    pros train. It is apparantly virtually undetectable as it is a natural occurance in the body unless a complex set of tests are

    done and not just a standard steroid test. As a result the players are carrying less than 5% body fat virtually throughout

    the team. I'd love to see average BMI stats.

    In my opinion the Polynesians have a phenomonally high level of natural HGH which is why they have been so dominant

    for so long. But due to scientific advancement a lot of nations are catching up on the bulk and lean muscle.

    Now it comes down to coaching and how the management can bond the entire squad.

    Look at Wales coaching set-up.I think it is probably the best in the world therefore it is no suprise when the head coach

    has had these players for four years and they finally start to compete regularly on the world stage.

    I like the 5 second base of ruck rule. Great for more plays and to keep 'em running. Space will appear to the fittest and


    How about these:-

    1. At Pro Level the clock is stopped when ball out of play or knocked on. Restart on put in throw in. Need a shot clock.

    2. Reduce subs. Injury only.

    3. Stricter with the yellow cards.

    4. I agree with the separate addition of front row, second row and back row. No shoving til hooker taps. Back to straight

    feeds and props actually propping the hooker who has to strike.

    I think this would encourage a more fluid game with emphasis on speed and guile rather than bash'n'bash.

    Therfore the players would have to be more aerobically fit and able to carry their body mass for nigh on 80mins.

  • Comment number 94.

    Grey ghost wrote

    "I've heard it said by my English colleagues that Wales can only complete grandslams in post-world cup years when everyone else is rebuilding. I'm not sure they are completely right, but 2008, 2012... assuming you do win a GS, it's a bit of a coincidence don't you think? Peaking way too soon perhaps? or just slightly too late? Still it's nice to see that Gatland is now a great coach again."

    I think you are spot on with the peaking. Thats why the Autumn Internationals are a bit of a joke. Look at the way Olympic athletes peak. It's virtually impossible to sustain a level of intensity needed to do what Wales were expected to do Post WC. As a result a lot of the top players were rested and told to get ready to peak again for 6N This peaking is surely something all professional sports bodies consider.?

  • Comment number 95.

    I'm going to request some objective journalism again please Tom

    If the statistics prove injuries are not increasing, then they are not increasing. Just because Shane Williams can 'hear the collisions' from the sidelines, doesn't mean they are more dangerous. Bigger stronger players are less easy to injure, so I am not surprised by the discovery that statistically injuries are not more common. Only a bigger discrepency between the sizes of players will result in more injuries. If they all increasing in size, as has happened since professionalism (and since the dawn of time for that matter), then the risk of injury will not increase.

    Secondly, where was the statistical analysis of whether bigger players has led to a more boring game!!!??? Surely it would have been more insightful to analyse whether there have been more tries, more points, more tackles, more kicking, more/less phases, line breaks etc etc. Instead Shane Williams says he would like to see more sevens style rugby. I suggest he watches the World Sevens Series on TV.

    Its is an interesting debate none the less!

  • Comment number 96.

    I do enjoy rugby as it is (although I'm probably too young to remember before these giants), I think the problem is that is filtering down to lower levels. Playing low standard saturday rugby i've found the backs are just giants with little skills.Despite playing 10 and 13 for all my junior rugby. However as I've moved to seniors because of my build 5ft 10, 10 stone. I have immeadiatly been told to turn into a scrum half or bulk up for the wing. Playing on the wing last week the 6 foot 8 guy I was up against was replaced by a lad i later found out was a prop the year before in juniors.

    In my opinion, to keep rugby popular and seen as a game for all sizes, there needs to be a more common development stage between 17s and seniors. (As there is in Wales, though maybe U21's). This would also let smaller guys develop more whilst being able to continue playing there chosen position. in my opinion with a talent pool of u 21's playing regularly there is a chance for clubs to pick up on late developers who at 18 despite having a skillset would be told they were too small.

    It would also be nice to see proper dangerous runners being picked and given a chance at the highest level like Matt Tait, James simpson daniel.

  • Comment number 97.

    Before everyone gets carried away lamenting the passing of the smaller more skillful players of yesteryore just watch some of the highlights of the 70s matches - lineouts complete chaos, scrums heaps of flailing limbs & plenty of the silky running skills were aided by woeful tackling. Lets not get to rose-tinted in the reminiscing. Besides I still think we'll see the Shane Ws & Jason Rs coming through simply because they are individuals who can turn a game on their own & the big guys have been showing skills too.
    Have to say I like a well contested scrum too although how its set could be improved. We seem to be overlooking the point that the scrum & lineout demand players of different sizes which in other facets can be exploited by quicker players. I'll happily take union today (with the scrums & some flaws) over league and as for bringing american football into the discussion ...... well I feel a little sleepy at the very thought

  • Comment number 98.

    A few points i thought of; all be it to the untrained eye:
    The height and skill levels of the front row seem to have both grown a lot since the amature age, i can't see this as a bad thing.
    Is there any real need for the pause section of scrum? I've seen referees wreck games by being too officious on this.
    Dispite the growing similarity between the stature of League and Union players. Union will always have the more variety in the game and therefore more interest. Yes we can learn from league but we need to make sure we safeguard all the current elements of Union and keep them all competitive and interesting. That way it still should be a game everyone can play at every level.
    I'm sorry to say we should only ever talk in metric units. Its the absolute language of of science, unessary and confusing to use another term of measure. Imperialists should be content that English is the spoken language of science.

  • Comment number 99.

    How about max. squad weights!

  • Comment number 100.

    The laws of the game have changed in such a way that it does favour bigger and fitter players.

    Some obvious areas are in comparing int'l matches of those played in the 70s. Look at how the huge difference in the lineouts - and also the agility of the backs when they went for the tryline.

    Is today's game better? It's certainly different. Some unions are introducing (or about to introduce) a salary cap - maybe the IRB needs to look at implementing a weight cap per team?


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