When Christian Wade sensationally announced his retirement from rugby last week, in order to pursue a career in the NFL, he was candid in his reasons why he had developed such a love-hate relationship with the sport.
Speaking to BBC Sport, Wade claimed that English rugby is too obsessed by size and that it was a challenge that he has had to face throughout his career. From not being picked at 16 years of age to feeling like he had to prove himself throughout his time in the professional game, it all came to a head in 2015.
When Stuart Lancaster didn’t select him in his Rugby World Cup training squad and Eddie Jones never reached out to him following his appointment as England’s new head coach, Wade admitted that that was when he gave up on his hopes of adding to the solitary England cap he won against Argentina in 2013.
So, is Wade right? Is English rugby particularly obsessed about size, in a way that other nations aren’t?
Based on Test selections by Tier 1 nations for this coming weekend, the answer is not too supportive to Wade’s claims.
If we take Wade’s height of 1.73m and his weight of 86kg as the baseline, very few players selected fall below that.
Fellow Six Nations rivals Wales also have some candidates, with starting back three players Luke Morgan (81kg) and Leigh Halfpenny (85kg) sitting below Wade in terms of weight, as does bench scrum-half Tomos Williams, at 77kg. All three players are taller than the former Wasps wing, though.
The All Blacks actually boast two of the three players this weekend to be both lighter and shorter than Wade, with starting scrum-half Te Toiroa Tahuriorangi and bench fly-half Brett Cameron both measuring up at 1.71m and 83kg. Bench scrum-half Mitch Drummond also weighs in at less than Wade at 84kg, but in terms of centres and outside backs, New Zealand don’t have anyone that tips the scales at less than 90kg.
The Springboks, a side previously known for their obsession with size, can only offer up their starting and bench scrum-halves, with Ivan van Zyl and Embrosie Papier both weighing in at 80kg. Papier is the other player to join the New Zealand half-backs in being both shorter and lighter than Wade.
And it is a similar story with Ireland, where starting scrum-half Luke McGrath is the only player under 86kg, with the Leinsterman listed at 82kg. Like the All Blacks, there is no one outside of nine weighing in at anything less than 90kg in Ireland’s starting back line.
As for England themselves, George Ford only tips the scales at 84kg, but does enjoy a slight height advantage over Wade.
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If you exclude half-backs and fly-halves, given the differing requirements of those positions compared to the outside backs, only Graham, Morgan, Halfpenny and Bisegni weigh less than Wade out of those players featuring this weekend, and all four have height advantages over the former wing.
You could also look at that quartet and suggest that only Halfpenny is a regular starter, with the other three taking opportunities that injuries have provided them. Opportunities, it should be said, that are harder to come by with England, due to the size of the player pool available.
It could be argued that Wade’s weight was an issue for England, but given the scope of other squads picked this week, it seems his height would be an issue for any of the top Test-playing nations in the world.
It’s brutal, but there’s no denying how important the battle for aerial balls is, especially with the recent trend in cross-field kicks, so height is a key influencer in selection.
All of that said, Wade made great strides with his defence and aerial game over the last three or four years and to be denied the opportunity to show that he could cut it at Test level will forever be one of the unanswerable ‘what ifs’ of English rugby.
As a running back and kick returner in the NFL, that diminutive height and low centre of gravity should only aid his elusiveness and hopefully he finds a home that appreciates the undeniable skills that he brings to the mix.
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