ugby has hit on the same thought process as the fast-food industry and decided that bigger is better. The players, or at least the forwards, have become super-sized in the last few years.
There might be some who legitimately wonder if that didn’t already happen some time ago. Maybe even as far back as the dawn of the professional age.
Go back to the early 1990s and the last days of the amateur era and compare the average size of the players then with the average size of 2000 – five years after professionalism arrived – and the difference is significant.
There was a massive spike in physical development in those first years of the professional era. And that was no real surprise.
Suddenly the players had more time to train. They had access to specific training programmes, to better advice and guidance, and for the first time for many athletes, they had a scientific approach to their conditioning.
The change in body shapes and compositions was immediate and obvious. It was also relatively dramatic, and one of the best landmarks to see that was when the British and Irish Lions toured New Zealand in 2005.
The last time they had been was 1993 and the comparisons between the players of that tour and the men who were involved 12 years later were enlightening.
Daniel Carter, a first-five, was the only All Black of 2005 who was lighter than hooker and captain Sean Fitzpatrick in 1993.
That was an eye-opener because in his day, Fitzpatrick had seemed huge. He was considered a big man indeed at 93kg and yet, 12 years later there were wings, midfielders and even halfbacks who were much heavier than he was.
The differences were evident across the team, though. The All Blacks locks in 1993, Ian Jones and Robin Brooke, were respectively 102kg and 108kg. Openside flanker Michael Jones was 96kg and No 8 Zinzan Brooke was 100kg.
In 2005, the All Blacks locks, Ali Williams and Chris Jack, were respectively 112kg and 113kg.
Openside flanker Richie McCaw was 104kg and No 8 Rodney So’oialo was 107kg. In most cases the forwards of 2005 were between 10 per cent and 20 per cent heavier than they had been in 1993, but the real difference was strength and fitness. Coaches estimated individuals were about 30 per cent more powerful.
The change in 12 years had been dramatic, but that was hardly surprising given the transition from amateur to professional. The expectation was that the pace of player growth would slow post-2005.
There was no reason to believe athletes would continue to be 10 per cent to 20 per cent heavier every 10 years and 30 per cent more powerful. Most strength and conditioning coaches were sure that players would make incremental physical gains but it wouldn’t necessarily be hugely noticeable or game changing.
That forecast, however, didn’t prove to be right. The pace of growth has continued at much the same rate and the size of many of the athletes in the All Blacks pack is quite frightening.
[RIGHT] LOCK IT Robin Brooke would be almost 20kg lighter than some of the current All Blacks locks.