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A 'definitive' heaviest rugby players XV in 2023

By Ian Cameron
Perpignan's Samoan lock Posolo Tuilagi runs with the ball during the French Top14 rugby union match between USA Perpignan and Aviron Bayonnais (Bayonne) at the Aime-Giral stadium in Perpignan, south-western France on March 4, 2023. (Photo by RAYMOND ROIG / AFP) (Photo by RAYMOND ROIG/AFP via Getty Images)

The internet is littered with lists of the heaviest rugby players playing the sport, even if frustratingly few are anything like accurate.

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The truth is tracking player weights is difficult, not least as players – like all human beings – are prone to fluctuations in body weight, and often tend to gain mass over the span of their careers.

With these pitfalls in mind, or in spite of them, we have attempted to put together a definitive heaviest 15. It is exclusively made up of current players and ones that are listed in a position that they have started a game in at a professional level.

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We have used official club websites, the brilliant All.rugby database and first-person testimony when appropriate when trying to render credible weights.

Some positions have been more difficult to fill than others. Maybe surprisingly hooker and the back row are considerably lighter than we might have expected going into the process. Scrumhalf and fullback are also positions that have proved tricky.

The seeming retirement of 139kg Jone Qovu, 135kg plus Opeti Fonua and 106-115 kg scrumhalf Samisoni Fisilau have hindered our cause and there’s also a mention for 170kg second row Walid Maamry. The former French U18 forward is currently playing in the fourth tier of French rugby for Bédarrides Châteauneuf-du-Pape Vaucluse Rugby. As far as we can discern it is not a fully professional club and as such we reluctantly felt we had to exclude him from this XV.

While we have tried to be definitive, no doubt there are mistakes or oversights on our part, so we very much welcome corrections and more importantly suggestions. Please email ian@rugbypass.com if you have some. As alluded to earlier, we suspect No.6 and No.8 are areas where we feel there are heavier athletes out there.

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The average weight of our pack is 142.1kg or 313 pounds or 22 stone 5 pounds. The backs average out at 119.4kg or 263 pounds or 18 stone 11 pounds.

1 Nephi Leatigaga – 193cm, 149kg
While there’s a queue of enormous tightheads playing the game, there aren’t quite as many 140kg plus at loosehead. The Leicester Tigers front-rower is the heaviest according to our research and is consistently listed at 149kg, or 23 stone six pounds in old money.

2 Peato Mauvaka – 185cm, 124kg
While we suspect there are heaviest hookers than the French No.2, he’s the heaviest we could get a credible weight for. Honourable mention goes to Toulon’s 122kg Christopher Tolofua, who we understand used to weigh in at 132kg but has slimmed down.

3 Asenathi Ntlabakanye – 182cm, 153kg
A controversial entry given both Ben Tameifuna and Uini Antonio have both laid claim to being the heaviest professional players on the planet at various stages. According to their respective club websites, neither can currently match Emirates Lions tighthead Asenathi Ntlabakanye, who weighs in at slightly over 24 stone.

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4 JJ van der Mescht – 200cm, 154kg
According to a recent interview that Paul Gustard gave Jim Hamilton on The Big Jim Show, the Stade Francais head coach spoke of a “154 kilo” second row on his books in Paris.  RugbyPass has confirmed that Gustard had been alluding to JJ van der Mescht, who’s listed between 135kg and 145kg on various websites, but who looks significantly bulked up in recent photographs compared to his time at the Sharks back in South Africa. Honourable mention goes to 203cm, 145kg Emmanuel Meafou, who plays for Toulouse and looks set to star for France despite originally hailing from Australia.

5 Will Skelton – 203cm, 148kg
While he’s fluctuated wildly over the last decade – nearly tipping 160kg at one point – in a recent interview with RugbyPass’ Le French Rugby podcast, the La Rochelle lock said he was currently between 145kg and 150kg, so we met the Wallaby in the middle.

Will Skelton
La Rochelle’s Australian lock Will Skelton fights for the ball during the French Top14 rugby union match between Union Bordeaux-Begles (UBB) and Stade Rochelais (La Rochelle) at the Chaban-Delmas stadium in Bordeaux (Photo by THIBAUD MORITZ/AFP via Getty Images)

6 So’otala Fa’aso’o – 195cm, 130kg
A comparative lightweight in our pack, London Irish’s So’otala Fa’aso’o takes the blindside spot at a modest 20 stone 4 pounds.

7 Posolo Tuilagi – 192cm, 149kg
The latest Tuilagi off the rank is the largest yet; Posolo Tuilagi has been tearing it up for Perpignan and  France U20s. The son of Henry, the teenager who can also play in the second row, is already right up there as one of the biggest bodies in the game. He’s listed at 149kg on All.rugby and 145kg on the official Perpignan website. We suspect the former might be more accurate on this occasion.

8 Billy Vunipola – 188cm, 130kg
The retirement of some enormous No.8s in recent years has meant that England veteran Vunipola was the largest No.8 we could source, which again, on the face of it seems a little light in the context of this team.

9 Sonatane Takulua – 176cm, 101kg
The previous heaviest professional scrumhalf, Samisoni Fisilau, tipped the scales at least 106kg, and he is replaced by fellow Tongan Sonatane Takulua, who is currently playing for Agen in the ProD2.

10 Josh Matavesi – 182cm, 120kg
The deceptively heavy Shokki Shuttles flyhalf, who previously played for Ospreys, Bath and Worcester weighs in at 120kg, making him by 8kg the heaviest No.10 in the professional game.

11 Masivesi Dakuwaqa – 189cm, 118kg
The Montpellier hulk can more often be found in the back row these days, but the Olympics Sevens gold medalist has started over 40 per cent of his professional games as a winger.

12 Matthieu Bastareaud – 182cm, 125kg
Although he has found a new home in the back row in recent seasons, it’s not an unreasonable proposition to select Bastareaud in the position which saw him win 54-caps for France.  Although the Toulon website frustratingly doesn’t list his weight, All.rugby have him at 125kg. Honourable mention goes to the 118kg Apimeleki Nawaqatabu who plays for Narbonne.

13 Taqele Naiyaravoro 192cm, 130kg
Although largely selected as a wing, Naiyaravoro has played 13, notably for the Barbarians in 2017. On paper, the former Glasgow Warrior and Northampton Saint is neck and neck with our next entry.

14 Nemani Nadolo – 192cm, 130kg
The biggest back of all time is listed at 130kg on the Waratahs website at the moment, although he was as high as 137kg at Montpellier. It’s hard to see Nadolo’s record as the most massive back in the game ever bested.

15 Frans Steyn – 185cm, 112kg
The old warhorse is playing his rugby at the Cheetahs but he’s built more like a blindside these days. Honourable mention to England’s Freddie Steward who is typically listed at between 105 and 109kg.

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