A lot is demanded from second rows in the modern game as it is one position that has had to evolve with changing demands. Lumbering giants who were used as ballast in the scrum and elevation in the lineout are now replaced by far more athletic players who pose many more threats around the field. Yet, the strength at the set-piece is still a prerequisite for any lock. 

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While there may not be as much variation between locks as there is with other positions in the game, there are still nuances and subtle differences in how the game is approached in different parts of the world. For instance, South Africa has a long history of producing monstrous locks, something visible in their recent World Cup victory where they opted for four in their matchday 23. 

There are also differences across Europe when comparing the height and weight of locks in the top three leagues, France’s Top 14, England’s Gallagher Premiership and the Guinness PRO14, which reflects the different styles. A good round of fixtures to compare the leagues was the first weekend of January as it fell between the RWC and the Six Nations and came before the European fixtures and the suspension of rugby due to the coronavirus pandemic. We have sifted through the size of every starting lock in all fixtures and calculated an average. 

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It’s unsurprising when looking at the three leagues that locks in the Top 14 were the tallest, averaging 1.99m (6ft 6ins). This was almost 2cms taller than both the Premiership, 1.98m (6ft 6ins), and the PRO14, 1.98m (6ft 6ins). The French league is characterised by its focus on set-piece, which is why teams tend to operate with larger back row players as well to provide more options at the lineout and weight in the scrum. 

While the Top 14 fields taller players, what is most noticeable is that 57 per cent of the locks in the league were 2m (6ft 7ins) and over, with Toulouse’s Rory Arnold being the tallest in Europe on this particular weekend at 2.08m (6ft 10ins). This is compared to only 33 per cent in the Premiership and 32 per cent in the PRO14. 

Meanwhile, all three leagues barely fielded any players under 1.95m (6ft 5ins), which would be nearing the shorter end of the spectrum for locks. Only 14 per cent in the Top14 and the PRO14 were under 1.95m – and 17 per cent were in the Premiership. This suggests there is a minimum standard for the height of a lock that none of the leagues chooses to go below. 

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What is apparent is the smallest locks tend to be back rows who have moved into the engine room. All four of the smallest second rows in the Premiership, at 1.92m (6ft 4ins), can also play at flanker or No8, while the shortest lock in the Top 14 was France’s Gillian Galan, 1.93m (6ft 4ins), who was making a rare excursion into the second row from the base of the scrum, a position he is far more accustomed to. 

Although it does not come as a surprise that the Top 14 offered the tallest players, it is interesting that it didn’t have the heaviest. The Premiership was the heaviest league on average at 117.7kgs (18st 8lbs), although the Top 14 was virtually identical, 117.5kgs. 

The similarities did not end there, however, as France had 39 per cent of players over 120kgs (18st 13lbs) compared to England’s 38 per cent, and only seven per cent under 110kgs (17st 5lbs) compared to none in England. So not only was the average weight of players the same, the range of weights was more or less identical in France and England. 

These two leagues differ from the PRO14, which had an average weight of 114kgs (17st 13lbs) on this weekend. This may be down to a stylistic differentiation between the leagues, as it has frequently been seen that the PRO14 opts for smaller players, particularly in the pack, which may facilitate a faster league. Only eleven per cent of players in this league were over 120kgs (18st 13lbs), which is quite a drop from the Anglo-French percentage, while another 18 per cent were under 110kgs (17st 5lbs), which is a rise from their European counterparts. 

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The lighter locks in the PRO14 are simply consistent with the other positions in the pack, who are typically lighter than the more ‘pack heavy’ French and English leagues. 

Ultimately, there is not a huge amount of differentiation in height between the three leagues as there are general requirements of a lock. In terms of weight, though, there is a bit more variation, as some players are lighter than second rows of a previous era. 

Ireland’s James Ryan, who is one of the leading locks in the world, weighs in at 107kgs on the Leinster website, far below the average of the PRO14. Likewise, England’s Maro Itoje, who could well be Ryan’s partner for the British and Irish Lions next summer, also falls under the average weight in the Premiership. These two are perhaps signs of the new breed of dynamic locks, but that doesn’t exclude far bigger players as it depends on each team’s approach.  

GALLAGHER PREMIERSHIP – Average 1.98m (6ft 6ins)/117.7kg (18st 8lbs)

Bath  

Josh McNally – 2.01m (6ft 7ins)/125kg (19st 10lbs) 

Elliott Stooke – 1.98m (6ft 6ins)/120kg (18st 13lbs) 

Bristol Bears 

Ed Holmes – 1.96m (6ft 5ins)/118kg (18st 8lbs)

Chris Vui – 1.96m (6ft 5ins)/118kg (18st 8lbs) 

Exeter Chiefs 

Jannes Kirsten – 1.92m (6ft 4ins)/113kg (17st 11lbs) 

Dave Dennis – 1.92m (6ft 4ins)/113kg (17st 11lbs)

Gloucester

Alex Craig – 1.98m (6ft 6ins)/112kg (17st 9lbs)

Franco Mostert – 1.98m (6ft 6ins)/112kg (17st 9lbs) 

Harlequins 

Stephan Lewies – 1.98m (6ft 6ins)/113kg (17st 11lbs) 

Matt Symons – 1.98m (6ft 6ins)/120kg (18st 13lbs) 

Leicester Tigers

Calum Green – 1.93m (6ft 4ins)/119kg (18st 10lbs) 

Tomás Lavanini – 2m01 (6ft 7ins)/130.1kg (20st 7lbs) 

London Irish

Franco van der Merwe – 1.98m (6ft 6ins)/116kg (18st 4lbs)

Adam Coleman – 2.07m (6ft 10ins)/122kg (19st 3lbs)

Northampton Saints 

Alex Moon – 2.01m (6ft 7ins)/123kg (19st 5lbs)

Dave Ribbans – 2.02m (6ft 8ins)/121kg (19st 1lb)

Sale Sharks 

Bryn Evans – 1.96m (6ft 5ins)/115kg (18st 2lbs)

Jean-Luc du Preez – 1.93m (6ft 4ins)/114kg (17st 13lbs)

Saracens

Maro Itoje – 1.95m (6ft 5ins)/115kg (18st 2lbs)

Will Skelton – 2.03m (6ft 8ins)/125kg (19st 10lbs)

Worcester Warriors 

Anton Bresler – 1.98m (6ft 6ins)/111kg (17st 7lbs)

Graham Kitchener- 1.98m (6ft 6ins)/118kg (18st 8lbs)

Wasps

Thibaud Flament – 2.01m (6ft 7ins)/110kg (17st 5lbs) 

Charlie Matthews –  2.01m (6ft 7ins)/121kg (19st 1lbs)

GUINNESS PRO14 – Average 1.98m (6ft 6ins)/114kg (17st 13lbs)

Benetton

Irne Philip Herbst – 2m (6ft 7ins)/120kg (18st 13lbs)

Federico Ruzza – 1.98m (6ft 6ins)/108kg (17st) 

Cardiff Blues

Filo Paulo – 2.03m (6ft 8ins)/122kg (19st 3lbs)

Josh Turnbull – 1m93 (6ft 4ins)/115kg (18st)

Cheetahs 

Sintu Manjezi – 2m (6ft 7ins)/114kg (17st 13lbs)

Walt Steenkamp – 2m (6ft 7ins)/104kg (16st 5lbs) 

Connacht 

Niall Murray – 2.01m (6ft 7ins)/100kg (15st 11lbs)

Gavin Thornbury – 2.04m (6ft 8ins)/117kg (18st 4lbs) 

Dragons

Joe Davies – 1.97m (6ft 6ins)/109kg (17st 2lbs) 

Matthew Screech – 1.98m (6ft 6ins)/116kg (18st 4lbs) 

Edinburgh

Lewis Carmichael – 1.96m (6ft 5ins)/110kg (17st 5lbs)

Grant Gilchrist – 1.98m (6ft 6ins)/118kg (18st 8lbs) 

Glasgow Warriors

Rob Harley – 1.98m (6ft 6ins)/110kg (17st 5lbs)

Tim Swinson – 1.93m (6ft 4ins)/112kg (17st 9lbs)

Leinster 

Ross Molony – 1.98m (6ft 6ins)/111kg (17st 7lbs)

James Ryan – 2.03m (6ft 8ins)/107kg (16st 9lbs) 

Munster

Fineen Wycherley – 1.93m (6ft 4ins)/112kg (17st 9lbs)

Darren O’Shea – 2.06m (6ft 9ins)/117kg (18st 4lbs)

Ospreys

Bradley Davies – 1m98 (6’6”) / 122kg (19st.3lb)

Adam Beard – 2m03 (6’8”) / 117kg (18st.4lb) 

Scarlets

Jake Ball – 1.97m (6ft 6ins)/121kg (19st 1lb)

Tevita Ratuva – 1.98m (6ft 6ins)/110kg (17st 5lbs)

Southern Kings

Jerry Sexton – 1.96m (6ft 5ins)/113kg (17st 11lbs)

Aston Fortuin – 1.97m (6ft 6ins)/114kg (17st 13lbs)

Ulster  

Alan O’Connor – 1.96m (6ft 5ins)/114kg (17st 13lbs)

Iain Henderson – 1.98m (6ft 6ins)/117kg (18st 4lbs)

Zebre

Dave Sisi – 1.93m (6ft 4ins)/117kg (18st 4lbs)

Ian Nagle – 1.98m (6ft 6ins)/113kg (17st 11lbs)

TOP 14 – Average 1.99m (6ft 6ins)/117.5kg (18st 7lbs)

Agen 

Tom Murday – 2m (6ft 7ins)/118kg (18st 8lbs)

Andres Zafra – 1.97m (6ft 6ins)/116kg (18st 4lbs)

Bayonne

Mariano Galarza – 2.02m (6ft 8ins)/116kg (18st 4lbs)

Guillaume Ducat – 2.05m (6ft 9ins)/115kg (18st 2lbs)

Bordeaux

Alexandre Flanquart – 2.06m (6ft 9ins)/120kg (18st 13lbs)

Kane Douglas – 2.02m (6ft 8ins)/119kg (18st 10lbs)

Brive 

Peet Marais – 1.98m (6ft 6ins)/118kg (18st 8lbs)

Victor Lebas – 1.93m (6ft 4ins)/105kg (16st 8lbs)

Castres 

Kevin Gimeno – 1m95 (6’5”) / 106kg (16st.10lb)

Victor Moreaux – 2m (6’7”) / 123kg (19st.5lb)

Clermont 

George Merrick – 2.01m (6ft 7ins)/123kg (19st 5lbs)

Sebastien Vahaamahina – 2.03m (6ft 8ins)/125kg (19st 10lbs)

La Rochelle 

Thomas Lavault – 1.98m (6ft 6ins)/110kg (17st 5lbs)

Mathieu Tanguy – 1.94m (6ft 4ins)/110kg (17st 5lbs)

Lyon

Kilian Geraci – 2m (6ft 7ins)/111kg (17st 7lbs)

Hendrik Roodt – 1m98 (6ft 6ins)/121kg (19st 1lb)

Montpellier 

Konstantine Mikautadze – 2m (6ft 7ins)/127kg (20st)

Paul Willemse – 2.01m (6ft 7ins)/129kg (20st 4lbs)

Pau 

Fabrice Metz – 1.98m (6ft 6ins)/120kg (18st 13lbs)

Daniel Ramsay – 1.97m (6ft 6ins)/114kg (17st 13lbs) 

Racing 92

Dominic Bird – 2.06m (6ft 9ins)/112kg (17st 9lbs)

Boris Palu – 1.94m (6ft 4ins)/113kg (17st 11lbs) 

Stade Francais 

Yoann Maestri – 2.02m (6ft 8ins)/119kg (18st 10lbs)

Paul Gabrillagues – 1.99m (6ft 6ins)/119kg (18st 10lbs)

Toulon 

Romain Taofifenua – 2m (6ft 7ins)/120kg (18st 13lbs)

Swan Rebbadj – 2.01m (6ft 7ins)/112kg (17st 9lbs)

Toulouse 

Rory Arnold – 2.08m (6ft 10ins)/120kg (18st 13lbs)

Gillian Galan – 1.93m (6ft 4ins)/130kg (20st 7lbs)

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