Scrum-half is one of the positions in a XV that has certain stereotypes and traits. There is a notion of what a player in this position should look like compared to others where there is more diversity. Across the backline, there can be an astonishing gulf in height and weight between two opposing players of the same position.
While that is less common with those wearing the No9 shirt, there are indeed differences.
Comparing the height and weight of players in Europe’s top three leagues, the Top 14, the Gallagher Premiership and the Guinness Pro14, helps in providing a clear-eyed summary of these differences.
The best round of fixtures to compare each league was probably the first weekend in January, which was sufficiently spaced between the Rugby World Cup and the Six Nations, before European fixtures and before the COVID-19 pandemic suspended all play.
As it turns out, this hiatus midway through the season has meant some players have already left their clubs ahead of the new Top 14 season, or the resumption of the Premiership and Pro14. The majority of the players are still with the same clubs, and their statistics have been taken from their club’s website.
Across the three leagues, the average height of scrum-halves barely wavers. Both the French and English leagues’ players were an average height of 1.76m (5ft 9ins), while the players in the Pro14 were 1.77m (5ft 10ins).
Scrum-halves are traditionally the smallest players on the field, although there are exceptions, so these heights are not that surprising, neither is the fact that there is little differentiation between the leagues.
This is a position where the height of a player is critical with regards to the speed at which the ball is delivered from the floor. Consequently, there were only five players who were 1.8m or over across all three leagues, which demonstrates the predilection in the game to opt for shorter players, and why therefore there is a lot of similarity in approach.
There is, however, some contrast when looking at the weight of scrum-halves, which can essentially be boiled down to France versus ‘the rest’.
No9s in the Top14 were 79kgs (12st 6lbs) on average, compared to the Premiership and the Pro14, which were both 5kgs heavier on average at 84kgs (13st 3lbs).
This is a sizeable distinction between France and the other leagues, which comprise six different rugby-playing countries, but it is one that adheres to the Gallic custom in this position.
As packs have grown in size progressively over the years, so have scrum-halves, allowing them to remain competitive and pose a threat around the breakdown. Both the Premiership and Pro14 are littered with players that seek to cause trouble around the fringes of the ruck. Conor Murray, the tallest and heaviest scrum-half in Europe on this weekend, is particularly dangerous, and his haul of 14 Test tries for Ireland bears testament to his strength despite usually being surrounded by forwards.
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Murray is an exceptionally big scrum-half, but there were others in England and the Pro14 comparable to him in size. Similarly, there were many other players who are equally as potent on account of their pace. Names like Danny Care, Dan Robson and Harry Randall in the Premiership and George Horne and Tomos Williams in the Pro14 are just some examples of players who are as threatening as Murray, but in different ways.
French culture has always had a different view of the role of the scrum-half to England and indeed the rest of the world. The moniker ‘The Little General’ is often given to French scrum-halves for a reason; they are tacticians, possibly more so than the fly-half.
A place-kicking scrum-half is as common as a fly-half in France, where it is virtually unheard of in England. Likewise, many No9s in France are equally adept in the No10 shirt as well. Dimitri Yachvili, Morgan Parra and Maxime Machenaud are all France’s most capped scrum-halves this century and all suit this model of what is required from that position.
This is not to say that scrum-halves are not one of the primary tacticians and distributors in a team elsewhere in the world, but there is a greater requirement that players bring more to the table individually.
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Given the French approach to this position, it is not that strange therefore that their players are that much lighter than those in the rest of Europe. The heaviest and tallest player in the league during this gameweek was former All Black Tawera Kerr-Barlow at 1.87m (6ft 2ins) and 91kgs (14st 5lbs), who is obviously from another rugby culture. After the Kiwi, the next heaviest player was Lyon’s one-cap Frenchman Jonathan Pélissié, a whole seven kgs lighter.
France’s incumbent ‘demi de mêlée’ Antoine Dupont is of course different from the stereotypical No9 in his country, but it may well be his dynamic and countercultural approach that is helping rescue France from the doldrums. The Toulouse man is clearly different from his national rival, Toulon’s Baptiste Serin, who is much more akin to the ideal of a French No9.
Like all positions, this is one that has been subject to change over the years; these figures may have been even lower in the past, as there has been a new breed of scrum-half since the 2000s, spearheaded by the likes of the All Blacks’ Byron Kelleher and Wales’ Mike Phillips, with the Welshman almost serving as another loose forward at times.
But this division between France and the other leagues assists in showing the different ways in which scrum-halves are used, and illuminates the cultural differences that exist.
Paul Abadie- 1.76m (5ft 9ins)/ 88kgs (13st 12lbs)
Jonathan Pélissié- 1.79m (5ft 11ins)/ 84kgs (13st 3lbs)
Teddy Iribaren- 1.7m (5ft 7ins)/ 70kgs (11st)
ASM Clermont Auvergne
Greig Laidlaw- 1.76m (5ft 9ins)/ 78kgs (12st 4lbs)
Yann Lesgourgues- 1.77m (5ft 10ins)/ 82kgs (12st 13lbs)
Guillaume Rouet- 1.68m (5ft 6ins)/ 74kgs (11st 9lbs)
Enzo Sanga- 1.76m (5ft 9ins)/ 75kgs (11st 11lbs)
Julien Blanc- 1.75m (5ft 9ins)/ 77kgs (12st 2lbs)
Samuel Marques- 1.74m (5ft 9ins)/ 76kgs (12st)
Tawera Kerr-Barlow- 1.87m (6ft 2ins)/ 91kgs (14st 5lbs)
Baptiste Serin- 1.8m (5ft 11ins)/ 76kgs (12st)
Jeremy Fernandez- 1.75m (5ft 9ins)/ 78kgs (12st 4lbs)
James Hall- 1.73m (5ft 8ins)/ 82kgs (12st 13lbs)
Sébastien Bezy- 1.74m (5ft 9ins)/ 77kgs (12st 2lbs)
Average: 1.76m (5ft 9ins)/ 79kgs (12st 6lbs)
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Will Cliff- 1.78m (5ft 10ins)/ 84kgs (13st 3lbs)
Danny Care- 1.73m (5ft 8ins)/ 84kgs (13st 3lbs)
Richard Wigglesworth- 1.76m (5ft 9ins)/ 86kgs (13st 8lbs)
Michael Heaney- 1.75m (5ft 9ins)/ 80kgs (12st 8lbs)
Willi Heinz- 1.8m (5ft 11ins)/ 89kgs (14st)
Chris Cook- 1.78m (5ft 10ins)/ 92kgs (14st 7lbs)
Ben Youngs- 1.78m (5ft 10ins)/ 88kgs (13st 12lbs)
Harry Randall- 1.73m (5ft 8ins)/ 72kgs (11st 5lbs)
Dan Robson- 1.73m (5ft 8ins) / 82kgs (12st 13lbs)
Cobus Reinach- 1.75m (5ft 9ins)/ 84kgs (13st 3lbs)
Ben Meehan- 1.78m (5ft 10ins)/ 82kgs (12st 13lbs)
Nic White- 1.75m (5ft 9ins)/ 82kgs (12st 13lbs)
Average: 1.76m (5ft 9ins)/ 84kgs (13st 3lbs)
John Cooney- 1.78m (5ft 10ins)/ 87kgs (13st 10lbs)
Conor Murray- 1.88m (6ft 2ins)/ 93kgs (14st 9lbs)
Tomos Williams- 1.78m (5ft 10ins)/ 77kgs (12st 2lbs)
Gareth Davies- 1.78m (5ft 10ins)/ 88kgs (13st 12lbs)
Henry Pyrgos- 1.78m (5ft 10ins)/ 83kgs (13st 1lbs)
Stefan Ungerer- 1.84m (6ft)/ 90kgs (14st 2lbs)
Luke McGrath- 1.74m (5ft 9ins)/ 84kgs (13st 3lbs)
Caolin Blade- 1.7m (5ft 7ins)/ 80kgs (12st 8lbs)
Josh Renton- 1.74m (5ft 9ins)/ 82kgs (12st 13lbs)
Tian Meyer- 1.77m (5ft 10ins)/ 84kgs (13st 3lbs)
Rhodri Williams- 1.76m (5ft 9ins)/ 81kgs (12st 11lbs)
Aled Davies- 1.75m (5ft 9ins)/ 86kgs (13st 8lbs)
Dewaldt Duvenage- 1.75m (5ft 9ins)/ 79kgs (12st 6lbs)
George Horne- 1.75m (5ft 9ins)/ 79kgs (12st 6lbs)
Average: 1.77m (5ft 10ins)/ 84kgs (13st 3lbs)
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