A prevailing narrative in professional rugby is that of the ever-increasing size of players, and furthermore, that players’ body shapes are becoming more uniform across positions.
With Law changes and various styles in which the game is played, some believe that the utility of specialist physiques is in decline, and that Union runs the risk of eventually mirroring Rugby League, where players’ physiques are more uniform.
The idea of a ‘game for all shapes and sizes’ is under threat, or so this cliché goes.
At least one team bucking this trend is La Rochelle on the West coast of France. The club have embraced specialisation or at the very least that most fundamental rugby axiom: select big forwards and small backs.
A cursory glance at their 2018/19 squad and new signings ahead of the season show that Europe’s newest rugby superpower favour physical diversity. New inclusions – backrow Lopeti Timani (6’4″, 124kg) and winger Marc Andreu (5’7″, 75kg) – being a case in point.
It’s a phenomenon that is borne out across the team. The average weight of a La Rochelle player is 104.6kg or 16 stone 7Ibs and their average height is 185.5cm or 6’1″.
The forwards however weigh in at a whopping 117.9kg or 18 stone 8Ibs a man and a height of 190.5cm or 6’3″ even.
In stark contrast, the backs are positively minuscule at just 86.9kg or 13 stone 10 Ibs; and 179cm or 5’10.5″ in height, making them most likely the smallest back division in Europe.
Furthermore, that makes their average forward 4.5 inches taller and a staggering 31kg heavier than their backs – a smidge under 5 stone heavier on average per man.
What’s also remarkable is just how few players approximate the average player weight – just 4 players out of 35 are within three kilos either side of 104.6kg, with the majority of players are clustered at the further reaches of the size differential.
Their heaviest player – French tighthead Uini Atonio (152kg) – remarkably weighs twice as much as newly signed wing Marc Andreau (75kg).
Whether this size difference is a function of the how the Top14 is played, with an emphasis on the set piece and mauling, or if it is by design is hard to tell. Whatever the underlying cause, the evidence suggests that at La Rochelle, it’s still very much a game for ‘all shapes and sizes’.