Six Nations 2020: how have players grown in size in the past 25 years - and who is the heaviest player in the tournament?

Since Rugby Union turned professional the average height and weight of players has increased by four inches and 14kg

By Iain leggat
Friday, 30th October 2020, 1:19 pm
Players have seen an average of 14kg increase since their counterparts played in 1995.
Players have seen an average of 14kg increase since their counterparts played in 1995.

Through rugby’s contestant evolution on both the field and off it, there has always been one noticeable difference between the way the game was, and the way it is now - the size of the players.

As the sport entered the professional era in 1995, gone were the days of post-game socials, and beer drinking props, replaced by an age of scientific and nutritional advancements. Progress in technology, training programmes, and coaching have all contributed to the development of athletes at the top levels of rugby.

As the delayed conclusion to the 2020 Six Nations tournament gets closer, we look back at the changing size and shape of the players in the historic championship.

Sign up to our daily newsletter

An increase in height and weight

The shift in the size of players has begun to get more noticeable than ever, as demonstrated by statistics.

At the 2015 Rugby World Cup, the Welsh backs in Warren Gatland’s side had the potential to be heavier on average than the New Zealand forwards who played in the 1987 tournament.

Modern international rugby players have grown significantly since their counterparts played 25 years ago. In a study, published in the BMJ Open Sport & Exercise Medicine, it revealed that the mean body mass of international players increased from 84.8kg in 1995, to 105.4kg in 2015. This is an increase of 24.3 per cent - nearly a quarter.

A study conducted by CNN in 2014 looked into the sporting physique evolution of rugby players, presenting a snapshot of three New Zealand backs viewed over 10 year intervals. Over four decades, the research revealed the average height and weight of players increased by four inches and 14kg.

The average weight of an England player in 1994 was 92.4kg. In 2014 the average weight was 105.1kg. This theme is common across all the major Test playing nations.

Why have players grown in size?

What it takes to train and live the life of a professional rugby player has been a major factor in the players’ development.

Data provided by Maximuscle gives an insight into the demands of what it takes to be a player in the modern era.

Compared to the average male intake of 55g of protein a day, a 100kg rugby player will be consuming 220 to 300g of protein a day.

However, it’s not just protein providing the boost in size. Players’ diets are meticulously planned and changed when needed. Pre-match meals will be carbohydrate heavy to ensure the players will be running on a full tank of fuel for the full 80 minutes.

If it's a later kick off, the meals will be altered to feature less carbs, giving the players more options at breakfast instead.

Developments in GPS tracking technology have helped coaches understand the physical demands of the game better, meaning they can develop training programmes designed for player improvement.

Improvements in data, as well as improved strength and conditioning programmes, has ended up producing much bigger players.

Biggest increases in size in the Six Nations

Research, conducted by Charles Tyrwhitt, trawled through 25 years of Six Nations squads to reveal the positions on the field who have seen the biggest change in weight and weight.

The average weight of a prop is the biggest change in position, increasing from 108kg in 1995 to 118kg in the 2019 Six Nations tournament.

English hookers have seen the biggest weight increase across the Six Nations since 1995, with a change of 16.5 per cent.

Scientific research suggests that the average impact force at the hit of a scrum is 10,850 Newtons. In comparison, a knockout punch is 3,000 Newtons. All sides within the Six Nations have seen a significant increase in the size of their forward packs.

The team with the biggest weight increase in the forward pack was Scotland. It saw an increase of 58kg from 1995 to 2019.

Ireland saw the biggest height decrease in the Six Nations with its full-backs dropping in size by 3.6 per cent.

2020 Six Nations championship

As the 2020 tournament comes to a close, the championship continues to present some giants on the field.

Wales’ WillGriff John comes in as the heaviest player in the tournament, weighing in at an impressive 140kg.

Next on the list is France’s Paul Willemse at 135kg, and Harry Williams for England at 132kg.

France continues to dominate the heaviest pack contest, with its forwards last year presenting the ‘heaviest pack in history,’ weighing in at a mammoth 950kg.