Rugby is an ever evolving sport, in both the laws and the way the game is played around the world. By virtue of that, teams change with the times. 

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But there are certain stereotypes that some nations cannot shake, which is by no means a bad thing. 

Within each nation, the league is often a bellwether of how its representative team plays, as it is often the platform in which players enter the Test arena. 

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As the Heineken Champions Cup and Super Rugby mirror the divide between the northern and southern hemispheres, so does each league reflect its host country. 

It’s hard to deny that the physical, and at times lumbering, nature of the Top 14 has been matched by Les Bleus in the same way the All Blacks’ fluid game is a result of the way their five franchises play. 

France looked to have taken a quantum leap into modernity in the 2020 Six Nations, but it will still take a while for the national team, and perhaps the league, to shake off the reputation it has garnered over the past decade of decline they have found themselves in. 

One of the best ways of quantifying how a team plays is by looking at the height and weight of the players. It is not a sureproof approach but it is useful. For instance, Warren Gatland’s direct and uncompromising style of play with Wales was dependent on larger backs in the way of Jamie Roberts and George North. Much in the same way, Scotland’s higher tempo game in recent years has been facilitated by a lighter pack. 

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After comparing the height and weights of each individual position in the three leagues, aggregating them will help in giving a greater impression of how each league plays, and whether the national setup follows suit. 

The best round of fixtures to compare each league was probably the first weekend in January, which was sufficiently spaced between the Rugby World Cup and the Six Nations, before European fixtures and before the COVID-19 pandemic suspended all play. 

As it turns out, this hiatus midway through the season has meant some players have already left their clubs ahead of the new Top 14 season, or the resumption of the Premiership and PRO14. The majority of the players are still with the same clubs, and their statistics have been taken from their club’s website. 

Only the starting players from each league were used, rather than using the bench as well, as it is ultimately the team that plays the longest period. Teams in France have the tendency to unleash some behemoths from the bench in the pack, the likes of which are not often seen in the other leagues, but are also players that are unlikely to start. 

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When looking at the total height and weights of all three leagues, the most striking thing is how similar each league was. The height of players was more or less identical, with only half a centimetre separating the Top 14, 185.5m (6ft 1in), from the Premiership and the PRO14, both 1.86m (6ft 1in). 

In the same way, only two kilograms separated the Premiership, 103kgs (16st 3lbs), from the Top 14 and the PRO14, both 101kgs (15st 13lbs). 

This does not reveal too much about each league, but the averages of the forwards and backs as collectives are slightly more helpful. 

The average height of the forwards in all three leagues was 1.89m (6ft 2ins). Such uniformity may be expected given the minimum and maximum heights that players can effectively operate at in the pack, particularly the front five. 

It is slightly more surprising that there is parity amongst the backs between each league as well, with the Premiership and PRO14 averaging 1.86m (6ft 1in), and the Top 14 averaging 185.5m (6ft 1in). 

As seen when looking at wingers, this is a position that accommodates a wide range of players, as do the centres. The most glaring example of this was Montpellier on this weekend, who had the 1.94m (6ft 4ins) Nemani Nadolo on one wing, and the 1.73m (5ft 8ins) Gabriel Ngandebe on the other. 

There is never such a chasm between players in the same position amongst the forwards, which is why it is all the more surprising that all the leagues are virtually identical, as there is so much diversity. Then again, the average between Nadolo and Ngandebe is roughly equal to a normal winger. 

The weight of forwards and backs in each league offers a bit more variety, but still not a great deal. 

The Premiership actually produced both the heaviest forwards and backs. The forwards in England were 113kgs (17st 11lbs), a kilogram heavier than France, and two kilograms heavier than the PRO14. 

The Top 14 historically has the reputation of having heavier packs, but is marginally eclipsed by the Premiership, but there is still very little to separate the leagues either side of the Channel. When taking into account the gargantuas that sometimes sit on the Top 14 benches, the averages may be slightly different. 

France produced the lightest backs, at 90kgs (14st 2lbs), while, as mentioned, England produced the heaviest, 93kgs (14st 9lbs), and the PRO14 sat in between, at 91.5kgs (14st 6lbs). 

In terms of reflecting the national teams of each league, the Premiership is a great indicator of how England play. The forwards in the Premiership shaded the Top 14 on this weekend courtesy of playing some sizeable blindside flankers, particularly locks that have moved to the back row. 

Courtney Lawes, Nick Isiekwe, Steve Mafi and Harry Wells all wore the No6 shirt on this weekend; all players that are primarily locks that can play at blindside as well. This is a tactic that has been frequently adopted by Eddie Jones since he took charge of England in 2016, often using Lawes as a No6. Such an approach has not been embraced by other countries in the Six Nations, and as a result it is less common in the Top 14 and PRO14. 

Even in the backs, the centres in the Premiership were significantly heavier than their rival leagues, which once again parallels the way Jones likes to play; always wanting a powerful ball carrier in the form of Manu Tuilagi, or previously Ben Te’o. 

The lighter pack in the Top 14 may also be symptomatic of the new French team under Fabien Galthié. The fitness levels, especially in defence, of Les Bleus in the most recent Six Nations were a far cry from previous years, and bore the mark of any side coached by Shaun Edwards. 

However, after only four games in charge of France, these are still early days under Galthié, and therefore harder to draw any links between the Top 14 and the national team. 

Likewise, it is also hard to jump to any conclusions from the PRO14, not only because Wales, Ireland and Italy all have new coaches, but so many teams comprise the league. It would be a fairly crude summary of each nation to base it on one specific gameweek of a league that only has two teams from each country competing in it, in the case of Italy, Scotland and South Africa. 

But these stats probably provide the greatest insight into England and Jones, partly because he has been in the role for the longest period. This is only done by digging under the surface though, as the three leagues in Europe look almost homogenous. 

 

Total Forwards

Top 14: 1.89m (6ft 2ins)/ 112kgs (17st 9lbs) 

Premiership: 1.89m (6ft 2ins)/ 113kgs (17st 11lbs) 

PRO14: 1.89m (6ft 2ins)/ 111kgs (17st 7lbs)

 

Total Backs

Top 14 1.82m (6ft)/ 90kgs (14st 2lbs)

Premiership 1.825m (6ft)/ 93kgs (14st 9lbs) 

PRO14 1.83m (6ft)/ 91.5kgs (14st 6lbs) 

 

Total

Top 14: 185.5m (6ft 1in)/ 101kgs (15st 13lbs)

Premiership: 1.86m (6ft 1in)/ 103kgs (16st 3lbs)

PRO14: 1.86m (6ft 1in) / 101kgs (15st 13lbs)

 

Loosehead prop

Top 14: 1.83m (6ft)/ 118kgs (18st 8lbs)

Premiership: 1.84m (6ft)/ 117kgs (18st 6lbs) 

PRO14: 1.84m (6ft)/ 115kgs (18st 1lbs)

 

Hooker 

Top 14: 1.81m (5ft 11ins)/ 107kgs (16st 12lbs)

Premiership: 1.82 (6ft 0ins)/ 106kgs (16st 10lbs)

PRO14: 1.83m (6ft 0ins)/ 106kgs (16st 10lbs)

 

Tighthead prop

Top 14: 1.85m (6ft 1ins)/ 118kgs(18st 8lbs)

Premiership: 1.87m (6ft 2ins)/ 121kgs (19st)

PRO14: 1.85m (6ft 1ins)/ 118kgs (18st 8lbs)

 

Lock

Top 14: 2m (6ft 7ins) / 117.5kgs (18st 7lbs)

Premiership: 1.98m (6ft 6ins) / 117.7kgs (18st 8lbs) 

PRO14: 1.98m (6ft 6ins)/ 114kgs (17st 13lbs)

 

Flanker 

Top 14:

No7: 1.92m (6ft 4ins)/ 107kgs

No6: 1.92m (6ft 4ins)/ 105kgs

Overall: 1.92m (6ft 4ins)/ 106kgs (16st 10lbs)

Premiership

No7: 1.87m (6ft 2ins)/ 105kgs (16st 7lbs) 

No6: Avg. 1.95m (6ft 5ins)/ 113kgs (17st 11lbs)

Overall: 1.91m (6ft 3ins)/ 109kgs (17st 2lbs) 

 

PRO14

No7: 1.88m (6ft 2ins)/ 104kgs(16st 5lbs) 

No6: 1.91m (6ft 3ins)/ 109kgs (17st 2lbs) 

Overall: 1.895m (6ft 3ins)/ 106.5kgs (16st 11lbs) 

 

No8 

Top 14: 1.91m (6ft 3ins)/ 113kgs (17st 11lbs)

Premiership: 1.9m (6ft 3ins)/ 113kgs (17st 11lbs)

PRO14 : 1.91m (6ft 3ins)/ 108kgs (17st)

 

Scrum-half

Top 14: 1.76m (5ft 9ins)/ 79kgs (12st 6lbs)

Premiership: 1.76m (5ft 9ins)/ 84kgs (13st 3lbs)

PRO14: 1.77m (5ft 10ins)/ 84kgs (13st 3lbs)

 

Fly-half

Top 14: 1.82m (6ft)/ 88kgs (13st 12lbs)

Premiership: 1.82m (6ft)/ 90kgs (14st 2lbs)

PRO14: 1.84m (6ft)/ 90kgs (14st 2lbs)

 

Inside centre

Top 14: 1.84m (6ft)/ 97kgs (15st 4lbs)

Premiership: 1.84m (6ft)/ 101kgs (16st) 

PRO14: 1.86m (6ft 1in)/ 99.5kgs (15st 9lbs)  

 

Outside centre 

Top 14: 1.84m (6ft)/ 94kgs (14st 11lbs)

Premiership: 1.87m (6ft 2ins)/ 99kgs (15st 8lbs) 

PRO14: 1.83m (6ft)/ 94kgs (14st 11lbs) 

Wingers

Top 14:

Left wing: 1.83m (6ft)/ 90kgs (14st 2lbs) 

Right wing: 1.84m (6ft)/ 91kgs (14st 5lbs)

Overall: 1.835m (6ft)/ 90.5kgs (14st 4lbs) 

 

Premiership:

Left wing: 1.84m (6ft)/ 95kgs (14st 13lbs)

Right wing: 1.84m (6ft)/ 96kgs (15st 2lbs) 

Overall: 1.84m (6ft)/ 95.5kgs (15st1lb)

 

PRO14:

Left wing: 1.83m (6ft)/ 90kgs (14st 2lbs) 

Right wing: 1.84m (6ft)/ 93kgs (14st 9lbs)

Overall: 1.835m (6ft)/ 91.5kgs (14st 8lbs) 

 

Fullback 

Top 14: 1.83m (6ft)/ 91kgs (14st 5lbs)

Premiership: 1.82m (6ft)/ 90kgs (14st 2lbs)

PRO14: 1.84m (6ft)/ 90kgs (14st 2lbs)

 

Total Forwards

Top 14 1.89m (6ft 2ins)/ 112kgs (17st 9lbs) 

Premiership 1.89m (6ft 2ins)/ 113kgs (17st 11lbs) 

PRO14 1.89m (6ft 2ins)/ 111kgs (17st 7lbs)

 

Overall Backs

Top 14 1.82m (6ft)/ 90kgs (14st 2lbs)

Premiership 1.825m (6ft)/ 93kgs (14st 9lbs) 

PRO14 1.83m (6ft)/ 91.5kgs (14st 6lbs) 

 

Total

Top 14 185.5m (6ft 1in)/ 101kgs (15st 13lbs)

Premiership 1.86m (6ft 1in)/ 103kgs (16st 3lbs)

PRO14 1.86m (6ft 1in) / 101kgs (15st 13lbs)

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