The top three leagues in Europe each have certain stereotypes regarding the size of their players that they stick to, particularly in the pack. So when comparing the measurements of hookers across Europe to get a gauge of the average weight and height, cultural norms will shine through. But there is still a model of what a No2 should look like.
France’s Top 14 – and indeed the French national team – traditionally field the largest forwards, with the Gallagher Premiership just behind, and the Guinness PRO14 being slightly more varied, partly due to the plurality of rugby cultures that make up that five-nation league.
So when comparing the measurements of hookers across Europe to get a gauge of the average weight and height, cultural norms will shine through. But there is still a model of what a No2 should look like.
Taking each player’s figures from their club’s website, the first weekend of January is one of the best game weeks of the entire season to compare players. This was a sufficient enough gap after the World Cup to play first-choice players and before the Six Nations and European fixtures.
While it may seem like a while ago, little rugby has been played since then due to the Covid-19 pandemic. What is worth noting is that the favoured hookers for England, France, Ireland, Wales and Italy during the Six Nations – and many of the second-choice players – were all starting this particular January weekend, which suggests these are the stats demanded of Test players as well as the level below.
In contrast to many positions on the field, No2 seems to be defined by the lack of variety when it comes to the players’ physical statistics.
The height of hookers is dictated by the size of the props either side of them. They will often be smaller than the props and very seldom taller. Therefore it isn’t too surprising that the average height of hookers across the three leagues was only separated by two centimetres as a player too tall or short would create an unbalanced front row.
The PRO14 had the tallest players at 1.83m (6ft 0ins) compared to the Premiership’s 1.82m (6ft 0ins) and the Top 14’s 1.81m (5ft 11ins). While there is a slight difference between each league, 65 per cent of the players in the French league and the PRO14 were between 1.8m and 1.85m compared to 50 per cent in England. The reason why the average is slightly higher in the PRO14 is that 21 per cent of players were over 1.85m compared to only 14 across the Channel.
With that in mind, Montpellier’s Bismarck du Plessis, at 1.89m (6ft 2ins), was the tallest hooker across the three leagues on this particular weekend. Although he is perhaps on the extreme end of what is a permissible height for a hooker, he has played in some sizeable front rows throughout his career for South Africa and now Montpellier which could accommodate taller hookers.
But these average heights show that there is a rough range of heights that a hooker has to fit in, simply in order to be most efficient.
What is stranger is that there is even less diversity in terms of weight in the three leagues. The players in both the Premiership and the PRO14 averaged 106kgs (16st 10lbs), while those in France were only a kilogram heavier.
France’s predilection to field heavier forwards is no secret, but the fact that it is by such a fine margin is bizarre, particularly as hooker is a position that doesn’t automatically necessitate what weight a player should be.
As it happens, excluding the anomalous Paul Ngauamo, who weighs 121kgs (19st), the average weight across all three leagues was the same. The Tongan hooker weighed significantly more than any other player in Europe on this weekend. Although he may not appear that weighty, his stats were from Agen’s website and the RWC website actually had him a kilogram heavier.
The Top 14 had 21 per cent of their players over 110kgs and 14 per cent under 100kgs, while the PRO14 had 29 per cent over and zero under. Meanwhile, the Premiership had zero players over 110kgs and only one player (eight per cent) under 100kgs.
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This suggests that there is a template of an ideal hooker that many of the clubs in England – and to a lesser extent the PRO14 – adhere to, while there is more variety in France. However, compared to some other positions, the range is fairly parochial.
So the most defining thing about the average weight and height of hookers across Europe is that there isn’t a great cultural divide. In this position, a greater comparison would be made when looking across eras, as this is one of the few positions where the average weight may have actually reduced.
In recent years, the premier No2s in the world have been characterised by qualities that would not have been seen in previous eras. The All Blacks’ Dane Coles has made a name for himself in the wider channels of the field, while the Springboks’ Malcolm Marx has the workrate and the potency at the breakdown of a flanker.
While neither of these players would be deemed small, their output in the loose is greater than those of previous eras. Indeed, one of the form hookers in England this season and someone quite stylistically similar to Coles, Bristol Bears’ Harry Thacker, was the lightest and shortest player in Europe on this particular game week.
It’s therefore not worth looking at each league individually and drawing any conclusions or stereotypes from them, as the demands and requirements for this position seem to be universal.
GALLAGHER PREMIERSHIP Average: 1.82m (6ft 0ins)/106kgs (16st 10lbs)
Bath Tom Dunn: 1.86m (6ft 1ins)/106kgs (16st 10lbs)
Bristol Harry Thacker: 1.73m (5ft 8ins)/93kgs (14st 9lbs)
Exeter Luke Cowan-Dickie: 1.85m (6ft 1ins)/109kgs (17st 3lbs)
Gloucester Franco Marais: 1.85m (6ft 1ins)/108kgs (17st)
Harlequins Elia Elia: 1.83m (6ft 0ins)/110kgs (17st 5lbs)
Leicester Tom Youngs: 1.75m (5ft 9ins)/104kgs (16st 5lbs)
London Irish Saia Fainga’a: 1.87m (6ft 2ins)/108kgs (17st)
Northampton Mike Haywood: 1.8m (5ft 11ins)/105kgs (16st 8lbs)
Sale Akker van der Merwe: 1.78m (5ft 10ins)/110kgs (17st 5lbs)
Saracens Jamie George: 1.83m (6ft 0ins)/109kgs (17st 2lbs)
Wasps Tommy Taylor: 1.83m (6ft 0ins)/104kgs (16st 5lbs)
Worcester Matt Moulds: 1.88m (6ft 2ins)/106kgs (16st 10lbs)
GUINNESS PRO14 Average: 1.83m (6ft 0ins)/106kgs (16st 10lbs)
Benetton Epalahame Faiva: 1.83m (6ft 0ins)/102kgs (16st 1lb)
Cardiff Liam Belcher: 1.78m (5ft 10ins)/104kgs (16st 5lbs)
Cheetahs Wilmar Arnoldi: 1.81m (5ft 11ins)/108kgs (17st)
Connacht Shane Delahunt: 1.88m (6ft 2ins)/112kgs (17st 8lbs)
Dragons Elliot Dee: 1.86m (6ft 1ft ft )/106kgs (16st 10lbs)
Edinburgh Mike Willemse: 1.85m (6ft 1ins)/104kgs (16st 5lbs)
Glasgow George Turner: 1.81m (5ft 11ins)/105kgs (16st 8lbs)
Leinster Sean Cronin: 1.78m (5ft 10ins)/103kgs (16st 3lbs)
Munster Niall Scannell: 1.85m (6ft 1ins)/111kgs (17st 7lbs)
Ospreys Sam Parry: 1.86m (6ft 1ins)/114kgs (17st 13lbs)
Scarlets Ken Owens: 1.85m (6ft 1ins)/112kgs (17st 8lbs)
Southern Kings Jacques du Toit: 1.84m (6ft 0ins)/103kgs (16st 3lbs)
Ulster Rob Herring: 1.85m (6ft 1ins)/102kgs (16st 1lb)
Zebre Luca Bigi: 1.82m (6ft 0ins)/104kgs (16st 5lbs)
TOP 14 Average: 1.81m (5ft 11ins)/107kgs (16st 12lbs) – 106kg excluding Ngauamo
Agen Paul Ngauamo: 1.85m (6ft 1ins)/121kgs (19st)
Bayonne Maxime Lamothe: 1.81m (5ft 11ins)/108kgs (17st)
Bordeaux Adrien Pelissie: 1.8m (5ft 11ins)/110kgs (17st 5lbs)
Brive Peniami Narisia: 1.87m (6ft 2ins)/104kgs (16st 5lbs)
Castres Jody Jenneker: 1.85 (6ft 1ins)/108kgs (17st)
Clermont John Ulugia: 1.8m (5ft 11ins)/115kgs (18st 1lb)
La Rochelle Facundo Bosch: 1.8m (5ft 11ins)/100kgs (15st 11lbs)
Lyon Jeremie Maurouard: 1.81m (5ft 11ins)/96kgs (15st 2lbs)
Montpellier Bismarck du Plessis: 1.89m (6ft 2ins)/115kgs (18st 1lb)
Pau Lucas Rey: 1.75m (5ft 9ins)/98kgs (15st 6lbs)
Racing 92 Camille Chat: 1.78m (5ft 10ins)/101kgs (16st)
Stade Francais Silatolu Latu: 1.78m (5ft 10ins)/110kgs (17st 5lbs)
Toulon Anthony Etrillard: 1.8m (5ft 11ins)/108kgs (17st)
Toulouse Julien Marchand: 1.81m (5ft 11ins)/108kgs (17st)
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