There are very few positions on a rugby field that offer as much variety in height and weight as the wing. But for a number of reasons, that does not apply for their back three companions in the full-backs position. With that said, there is still not an exemplar of what the perfect full-back should look like.
In every country, there are different players vying for the same position: Kurtley Beale and Israel Folau are examples of two players that have worn the No15 for the Wallabies a lot in recent years but are starkly different in terms of their physical makeup and the way they play the game.
So when looking at the full-backs in the top three leagues in Europe, France’s Top 14, England’s Gallagher Premiership and the Guinness PRO14, a variety would also be expected and a comparison can be made by collating the stats of the starting players on a chosen weekend of domestic action across the continent.
An excellent round of fixtures to compare each league was the first weekend in January which was sufficiently spaced between the Rugby World Cup and the Guinness Six Nations, falling before European fixtures and the Covid-19 pandemic that eventually suspended all play.
This hiatus has meant some players have already moved clubs or retired ahead of the new Top 14 season, or the resumption of the Premiership and PRO14. But the majority of the players are still with the same clubs and their statistics have been taken from their respective club’s website.
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This game-week also featured every player that would start for their country a month later in the opening game of the Six Nations, which helps to know what is required of a Test full-back.
When looking at both height and weight, there was very little that separates each league. In fact, the average weight of players in the PRO14 and the Premiership was the exact same – 90kgs (14st 2lbs) – while the average in the Top 14 was only a kilogram heavier.
Likewise, the full-backs were closely matched in height with only two centimetres separating the league with the tallest full-backs on average – the PRO14 at 1.84m (6ft) – and the smallest – the Premiership at 1.82m (6ft) – with the Top 14 between the two.
It’s uncommon to see an exceptionally small full-back, as it could expose a team under a high ball, which is why only 21 per cent of the players in the Top 14 and PRO14 were under 1.8m and 25 per cent in England.
However, the smallest player in Premiership this particular weekend was Exeter Chiefs’ and Scotland’s Stuart Hogg at 1.75m (5ft 9ins), who is arguably the best full-back in Europe. Wasps’ and Italy’s Matteo Minozzi is the exact same height as the Scot, while Leigh Halfpenny is only 2cm taller, with Jordan Larmour and Thomas Ramos only a 1cm taller than the Welshman.
These are all well-established internationals so while the majority of full-backs in each league were between 1.8m/1.89m, and a sizeable 21 per cent of players over 1.9m in the PRO14, it’s not a necessity to be a certain height as shown by how revered some of the more diminutive players are.
With regards to weight, there is perhaps even less of a requirement for players to fit a particular template than height, which is why it is all the more surprising that there was so little variation between each league.
What’s more, the full-back position lends itself to variation in the size of players. This is because the position could be filled by fly-halves, wingers or specialist full-backs. For instance, Toulon’s Bryce Heem, usually a winger, wore the No15 shirt during this game-week and was the heaviest player out of the three leagues at 105kgs (16st 7lbs).
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Glasgow Warriors, meanwhile, fielded the recently retired Ruaridh Jackson at full-back, who was primarily a fly-half and a vastly different player to Heem. But when looking across the players starting on this particular game-week, there were very few fly-halves/full-back practitioners.
Rather it was full of those that can play across the back three or specialise at full-back. While there are plenty of wingers that are larger than Heem, the Kiwi nears the limit of how big a full-back can be as the position requires players to be quite mobile in covering the entire backfield.
When bearing that in mind, it makes more sense why each league was so closely matched. While the average weight in the Top 14 was a kilogram heavier than the PRO14, 50 per cent of players were between 80-89kgs. A further 50 per cent were between 90-99kgs in the PRO14, which would have been the case in the French league as well had Heem not been the sole representative over 100kgs.
The weights of full-backs in England were slightly more scattered, with 17 per cent over 100kgs and eight per cent under 80kgs. But still, the majority of players were either between 80-89kgs (33 per cent) or between 90-99kgs (42 per cent). The uniquely lithe Minozzi, weighing 77kg (12st 2lbs), is the reason why the average weight of full-backs in England was brought down as it was the league that fielded the heaviest backs by and large on this weekend.
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The Premiership, therefore, shows the greatest range between the heaviest and lightest full-back as well, 24kgs compared to 19kgs in the Top 14 and 17kgs in the PRO14. The gap between the tallest and shortest player was also 18cm, the same as the PRO14, and 4cm more than the Top 14.
However, such a range is apparent across an XV and was still not as broad as the other positions outside of fly-half on this weekend. What these stats do is help reveal the lack of variation within and between leagues in Europe compared to most other positions.
Average – 1.82m (6ft)/90kgs (14st 2lbs)
Bath: Tom Homer – 1.8m (5ft 11ins)/92kgs (14st 7lbs)
Bristol Bears: Charles Piutau – 1.85m (6ft 1in)/101kgs (15st 13lbs)
Exeter Chiefs: Stuart Hogg – 1.75m (5ft 9ins)/92kgs (14st 6lbs)
Gloucester: Jason Woodward – 1.88m (6ft 2ins)/101kgs (15st 13lbs)
Harlequins: Ross Chisholm – 1.83m (6ft)/85kgs (13st 5lbs)
Leicester Tigers: Telusa Veainu – 1.8m (5ft 11ins)/85kgs (13st 5lbs)
London Irish: Alivereti Veitokani – 1.8m (5ft 11ins)/81kgs (12st 11lbs)
Northampton Saints: George Furbank – 1.82m (6ft)/87kgs (13st 10lbs)
Sale Sharks: Luke James – 1.93m (6ft 4ins)/90kgs (14st 2lbs)
Saracens: Elliot Daly – 1.84m (6ft)/94kgs (14st 11lbs)
Wasps: Matteo Minozzi – 1.75m (5ft 9ins)/77kg (12st 2lbs)
Worcester Warriors: Jamie Shillcock – 1.78m (5ft 10ins)/90kgs (14st 2lbs)
Average – 1.84m (6ft)/90kgs (14st 2lbs)
Benetton Treviso: Jayden Hayward – 1.85m (6ft 1in)/90kgs (14st 2lbs)
Cardiff Blues: Hallam Amos – 1.85m (6ft 1in)/97kgs (15st 4lbs)
Cheetahs: Rhyno Smith – 1.73m (5ft 8ins)/81kgs (12st 11lbs)
Connacht: Stephen Fitzgerald – 1.88m (6ft 2ins)/87kgs (13st 10lbs)
Dragons: Will Talbot-Davies – 1.91m (6ft 3ins)/98kgs (15st 6lbs)
Edinburgh: Blair Kinghorn – 1.9m (6ft 3ins)/95kgs (14st 13lbs)
Glasgow Warriors: Ruaridh Jackson – 1.85m (6ft 1ins)/88kgs (13st 12lbs)
Leinster: Jordan Larmour – 1.78m (5ft 10ins)/87kgs (13st 10lbs)
Munster: Shane Daly – 1.91m (6ft 3ins)/92kgs (14st 7lbs)
Ospreys: Cai Evans – 1.85m (6ft 1in)/84kgs (13st 3lbs)
Scarlets: Leigh Halfpenny – 1.77m (5ft 10ins)/85kgs (13st 5lbs)
Southern Kings: Courtney Winnaar – 1.82m (6ft)/86kgs (13st 8lbs)
Ulster: Will Addison – 1.85m (6ft 1in)/93kgs (14st 9lbs)
Zebre: Junior Laloifi – 1.8m (5ft 11ins)/90kgs (14st 2lbs)
Average – 1.83m (6ft)/91kgs (14st 5lbs)
Agen: Mathieu Lamoulie – 1.84m (6ft)/87kgs (13st 10lbs)
Bayonne: Djibril Camara – 1.83m (6ft)/88kgs (13st 12lbs)
Bordeaux: Romain Buros – 1.87m (6ft 2ins)/97kgs (15st 4lbs)
Brive: Rory Scholes – 1.85m (6ft 1in)/91kgs (14st 5lbs)
Castres: Julien Dumora – 1.84m (6ft)/90kgs (14st 2lbs)
Clermont: Setariki Tuicuvu – 1.79m (5ft 10ins)/90kgs (14st 2lbs)
La Rochelle: Jeremy Sinzelle – 1.84m (6ft)/95kgs (14st 13lbs)
Lyon: Toby Arnold – 1.78m (5ft 10ins)/87kgs (13st 10lbs)
Montpellier: Anthony Bouthier – 1.82m (6ft)/86kgs (13st 8lbs)
Pau: Charly Malie – 1.82m (6ft)/87kgs (13st 10lbs)
Racing 92: Simon Zebo – 1.88m (6ft 2ins)/94kgs (14st 11lbs)
Stade Francais: Kylan Hamdaoui – 1.82m (6ft)/89kgs (14st)
Toulon: Bryce Heem – 1.92m (6ft 4ins)/105kgs (16st 7lbs)
Toulouse: Thomas Ramos – 1.78m (5ft 10ins)/87kgs (13st 10lbs)
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