21 rugby players who were told they were too small to make it in professional rugby

By Josh Raisey

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World Cup-winning Springboks winger Cheslin Kolbe recently shared how he was told he was “too small to compete” as a rugby player while growing up. The South African is certainly not the first person to be told this, though, and for many, it provides the motivation they need to succeed.


Here are 20 others who were told they were too small to make it as a rugby player before going on to make a big name for themselves:

Height: 5ft 7ins/1.7m – Weight: 12st 8lbs/80kgs
A pioneer for a small rugby player like Kolbe, Wales’ top try-scorer bucked the trend in an era where backs were getting bigger and bigger. He won 87 caps for Wales and another four for the Lions, scoring 60 tries.

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Schalk Brits stars in Bringing Home Gold, the RugbyPass review of the 2019 World Cup

FAF DE KLERK (South Africa)
H: 5ft 7ins/1.7m – W: 13st 12lbs/ 88kgs
The World Cup-winning scrum-half has previously said that being told he was too small was the motivation he needed to succeed. Currently at Sale where his latest effort was hugely praised by Alex Sanderson, he has won 30 Springboks caps.

SCHALK BRITS (South Africa)
H: 6ft/1.82m – W: 15st 10lbs/100kgs
In an era of John Smit and Bismarck du Plessis starring for the Springboks, Brits was deemed too small. However, he was brought in from the cold by Rassie Erasmus at the age of 38 and became a 2019 world champion, retiring with 19 caps.

KWAGGA SMITH (South Africa)
H: 5ft 10ins/1.8m – W: 14st 2lbs/90kgs
Another 2019 World Cup winner, the flanker was seen as too small for the 15-man game having come from sevens. Has six Test caps and is currently playing in the Japanese Top League.


H: 5ft 8ins/1.73m – W: 14st 9lbs/93kgs
Now thriving at the Bears, the hooker was let go by Leicester Tigers in 2018 for being too small.

CJ STANDER (Ireland)
H: 6ft 1in/1.85m – W: 17st 11lbs/114kgs
As one of Ireland’s most powerful back row ball carriers, it is hard to believe that the soon to be 31-year-old was told he was too small for a South African loose forward when with the Bulls. The Munster player has 49 Ireland caps and also featured with the 2017 Lions.

H: 6ft/1.84m – W: 16st 3lbs/103kgs
Chiefs coach Rob Baxter has said his star No8 is too small in Eddie Jones’ opinion to play that position at Test level despite tearing up trees every week in the Premiership where he is this season’s current top try scorer.

H: 5ft 11ins/1.81m – W: 16st 3lbs/103kgs
The ex-Springboks and Northampton Saints flanker used being “too small” to his advantage. His small stature and low centre of gravity made him almost immovable over the ball. Won 23 caps before retiring in 2019.


NEIL BACK (England)
H: 5ft 10ins/1.78m – W: 14st 9lbs/93kgs
At under 100kgs, he was initially deemed not big enough by England selectors to play international rugby in the back row. That eventually became part of his selling point, though, aiding him in his fitness and work rate. Finished as a 2003 World Cup winner, gaining 66 England caps and five more with the Lions.

H: 5ft 9ins/1.74m – W: 12st 13lbs/82kgs
Arguably one of the most underused players by England in recent years as a result of his size. He won just a single Test cap despite his exploits with Wasps and is now pursuing a career in the NFL.

H: 5ft 8ins/1.73m – W: 11st 5lbs/72kgs
One of Jones’ latest selections in the England squad, the uncapped Bristol scrum-half has said it was not nice being told he was too small but it has given him confidence.

JUAN DE JONGH (South Africa)
H: 5ft 10ins/1.78m – W: 13st 10lbs/87kgs
The Wasps centre is not a small player by any stretch of the imagination, but ex-Springboks boss Heyneke Meyer thought so even though he was capped on 19 occasions.

H: 6ft 1in/1.86m – W: 16st 6lbs/105kgs
At one point there were questions about whether he could make the grade as a Test flanker. Although not the biggest, the Welshman has man-handled most of the opponents he has come up against. The Cardiff back row won his 26th cap in last weekend’s Triple Crown-clinching win with Wales.

BRENT RUSSELL (South Africa)
H: 5ft 9ins/1.75m – W: 13st 1lb/103kgs
For many South Africa fans, 23 caps were far too few for a player with Russell’s skill, speed and movement but his size and versatility may have worked against him.

H: 5ft 9ins/1.75m – W: 12st 8lbs/80kgs
The All Blacks and Chiefs flyer is one of the most diminutive players in the game and playing at full-back there have always been concerns he will be exposed under the high ball. Such is his class, however, that that has never been a problem in the 25-year-old’s 27-cap career.

H: 5ft 10ins/1.78m – W: 13st 3lbs/84kgs
The Scotland and Edinburgh winger is another player who says he was told he was too small, but the 23-year-old packs a punch for his size and has 16 Test caps.

H: 6ft 4ins/1.93m – W: 17st/108kgs
The ex-Springboks No8 was let go by the Sharks early in his career for not being big enough. The 33-year-old has 23 caps but an injury halted his gallop at the Super Rugby Lions.

H: 5ft 10ins/1.78m – W: 13st 4lbs/85kgs
The Wales full-back was also told he was too small in his teenage years, but he has gone on to become one of the most dependable and defensively solid full-backs in the game. Now 32, he earned his 95th Wales cap last month and he has another four for the Lions.

H: 6ft/1.82m – W: 13st 10lbs/87kgs
As a schoolboy, he was told he was not big enough to play rugby. Fast forward only a few years and the South African was crowned the World Rugby breakthrough player of the year. A winner of 13 caps, the 26-year-old is now serving a four-year ban for doping.

H: 5ft 11ins/ 1.8m – W: 12st 13lbs/82kgs
The ex-France captain cut a slight figure in the amateur and was told he did not have the weight to play in the pack at an international level, but that did not stop the swashbuckling flanker from earning 59 caps from 1975 to 1984.

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21 rugby players who were told they were too small to make it in professional rugby