Former England flanker and World Cup winner Neil Back sent an important message to his former club Leicester Tigers on Twitter shortly after they welcomed Jan McGinity to their backroom staff on Wednesday.
McGinity will move into the new role of head of elite performance recruitment, as part of a reshuffle at the Tigers who are coming off the back of their most disappointing season in the professional era.
Upon announcing their recruitment news on social media, which included Ged Glynn moving into the role of head of performance pathway and talent identification and the return of Pat Howard to mentor head coach Geordan Murphy, Back highlighted what Leicester’s priorities – and indeed what the priorities of every rugby team – should be.
He said: “Let’s hope that a young potential player’s Height, Weight, Speed & Max Bench Press come further down Leicester Tigers priority list when it comes to identifying young talent.”
Back also highlighted that this approach, where players are selected based on their physical attributes, may have led to stars like Johnny Wilkinson being overlooked.
Let’s hope that a young potential player’s Height, Weight, Speed & Max Bench Press come further down @LeicesterTigers priority list when it comes to identifying young talent else you could miss out on a player like England rugby’s @JonnyWilkinson who wouldn’t get a look in ?? https://t.co/NXwCfXcZsp
— Neil Back MBE (@NeilBack) June 26, 2019
The former British and Irish Lion underlined one of modern rugby’s biggest flaws and criticisms in his post. It has long been argued, particularly by players from the amateur era, that the skill level in rugby has diminished.
They claim that rugby is now a game in favour of players being more physically gifted, an opinion backed up by the drastic increase in the average weight of players over the past 25 years.
Measuring a player’s height, weight, speed and bench press is moving closer towards the NFL’s approach with the combine where potential signings are compared to one another with a series of physical tests. However, Back clearly feels there is more to rugby than just these four factors.
Jan McGinity has joined the club in the new position of Head of Elite Performance Recruitment, with Ged Glynn moving in to the role of Head of Performance Pathway and Talent Identification.https://t.co/ENsPkyzc4i
— Leicester Tigers (@LeicesterTigers) June 26, 2019
Being a diminutive flanker by modern standards, Back himself would perhaps be overlooked by this modern approach of recruitment. At under 6ft and less than 15 stone, he may have not met the criteria of a modern rugby team.
The 66-cap international was one of England’s finest forwards, famed for his incredible workrate, but he was perhaps England’s last world-class openside flanker.
— liam heagney (@heagneyl) June 2, 2019
Of course, this is not to say that smaller players do not make it in modern rugby. Far from it. The All Blacks’ Damian McKenzie is just an example of how someone that looks comparatively minute alongside his team-mates can still be devastating.
However, with rugby seemingly drifting further away from prioritising skill and rugby intelligence, Back felt the need to stress that these attributes should not be forgotten.
WATCH: Episode one of The Academy, the six-part RugbyPass documentary series looking at how Leicester Tigers develop their players
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