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NZ Rugby World - - The Gain Line -

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.

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