As in any sport, there are certain differences and conventions that define each league in rugby. This may be on a global scale with the distinction between the two hemispheres, or on a more localised scale between the leagues in Europe. 

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Traditionally, France’s Top 14 has had the reputation of being a slower, more physical league up front, while the Gallagher Premiership is slightly quicker. This has been noted by French players who have moved across the Channel during their career. 

The Guinness PRO14 is more akin to the Premiership stylistically, but it is a league that has changed over the years with the inclusion of Italian and South African teams. The fact the winners of the Heineken Champions Cup over the past decade have come from all three leagues suggests that there is not necessarily an undisputedly correct approach to play though.

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RugbyPass reviews the first Test of the 1997 Lions tour in South Africa in the company of Lawrence Dallaglio

So when looking at the height and weight of loosehead props across the three leagues, there may not be too many surprises. Looking at the size of the props, and their replacements, in the first game week of 2020 helps appreciate the divide between the leagues.

This is a good weekend to choose as it was between both the Rugby World Cup and the Six Nations, and was before any European action. With the suspension of rugby as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic, there has not been much more domestic rugby since then.* 

When looking at the height of the players, there is not too great a difference across the three leagues, with both the Premiership and PRO14 averaging 1.84m (6ft) for those starting and 1.83m (6ft) in the Top 14, which shows little or no variation. 

The substitute props in France averaged the same height as the starters, while the replacements in the Premiership were a cm taller at 1.85m (6ft 1ins) but were a cm smaller in the PRO14 at 1.83m. Despite this fluctuation, these are marginal changes as 75 per cent of all looseheads in France were between 1.8m (5ft 11ins) and 1.89m (6ft 2ins), while 78.5 per cent were in England and 85 per cent were in the PRO14. For the sake of creating a balanced front row, there are rarely any props that are at the polar ends of the scale with regards to height.  

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Concerning the weight of looseheads though, there is slightly more variation, as the three leagues adhere to the stereotypes they have developed over the years. With that in mind, it may not surprise many that the Top 14 had the heaviest starting looseheads, averaging 118kgs (18st 8lbs), following by the Premiership, 117kgs (18st 6lbs), and then the PRO14, 115kgs (18st 1lbs). 

This does not divert from what we have come to expect of each league and is made clearer by the fact that 43 per cent of the starting looseheads in the PRO14 weighed 120kgs (18st 13lbs) or over, compared to 33 per cent in England and 21 per cent in the PRO14. 

Further, the Top 14 can get away with fielding players like Bayonne’s Viliamu Afatia, who at 131kgs (20st 9lbs) was the heaviest No1 in Europe during this particular game week. A player of that size is not necessarily nonexistent in the higher tempo of the other two leagues but in contrast, the heaviest starter in the Premiership was Gloucester’s Josh Hohneck, 123kgs (19st 5lbs), and in the Pro14 was the Dragons’ Brok Harris, 121kgs (19st), both of whom are substantially lighter than Afatia. 

This gradation between the leagues perhaps mirrors the style of the national teams that come from them, certainly in terms of the Six Nations (therefore excluding South Africa who notoriously have sizeable forwards). 

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Although the average weight of the replacements was less than the starters in the Top 14 and the Premiership, and the same in the PRO14, this is misleading as it suggests that it is the preferred option to turn to lighter players on the bench. 

In reality, only 43 per cent of substitutes were lighter in the PRO14 and the Top 14, and 50 per cent were in the Premiership. The averages may have been skewed by exceptionally heavy starting props, such as Afatia in the Top 14, or light substitutes, such as the Southern Kings’ Xandré Vos, who was 104kgs (16st 5lbs) on the club’s website. 

This, therefore, shows a similarity to the weight of tighthead props on this particular weekend, where both the Top 14 and the Pro14 fielded heavier substitutes, although the Premiership’s were lighter. Thus, by and large, the approach across Europe is to add more ballast in the closing stages in the front row, potentially to provide security and strength in the scrum at the vital moments of the match. 

However, the difference in weight between the starting and closing players is fairly minor, particularly compared to other positions on the field. While it is conceivable that a diminutive inside centre could potentially be replaced by a ball carrying alternative that could be over 20kgs heavier, there would be no suchlike instance with looseheads. 

Ultimately, it is ostensibly clear that no league deviates from the norm with their looseheads, where there are fairly entrenched customs vis-à-vis the size of forwards. 

(*all player stats are taken from their club’s website)

GALLAGHER PREMIERSHIP

Sale Sharks

Ross Harrison- 1.85m (6ft 1ins)/ 119kgs (18st 10lbs)

Sub: Valery Morozov- 1.9m (6ft 3ins)/ 115kgs (18st 1lbs)

vs Harlequins

Joe Marler– 1.83m (6ft)/ 114kgs (17st 13lbs)

Sub: Santiago Garcia Botta- 1.85m (6ft 1ins)/ 109kgs (17st 2lbs)

Leicester Tigers 

Ellis Genge– 1.86m (6ft 1ins)/ 117kgs (18st 6lbs)

Sub: Greg Bateman- 1.78m (5ft 10ins) / 118kgs (18st 8lbs)

vs Bristol Bears

Jordan Lay- 1.83m (6ft)/ 113kgs (17st 11lbs)

Sub: Jake Woolmore- 1.87m (6ft 1ins)/ 120kgs (18st 13lbs)

Gloucester 

Josh Hohneck- 1.91m (6ft 3ins)/ 123kgs (19st 5lbs)

Sub: Alex Seville- 1.8m (5ft 11ins)/ 105kgs (16st 8lbs) 

vs Bath 

Beno Obano- 1.76m (5ft 9ins)/ 120kgs (18st 13lbs)

Sub: Lewis Boyce- 1.85m (6ft 1ins)/ 117kgs (18st 6lbs)

Saracens 

Mako Vunipola- 1.8m (5ft 11’)/ 121kgs (19st)

Sub: Richard Barrington- 1.88m (6ft 2ins)/ 123kgs (19st 5lbs)

vs Worcester Warriors

Callum Black- 1.8m (5ft 11’)/ 118kgs (18st 8lbs)

Sub: Ryan Bower- 1.85m (6ft 1ins)/ 116kgs (18st 4lbs)

London Irish 

Allan Dell- 1.86m (6ft 1ins)/ 112kgs (17st 9lbs)

Sub: Harry Elrington- 1.9m (6ft 3ins)/ 123kgs (19st 5lbs)

vs Exeter Chiefs

Alec Hepburn- 1.85m (6ft 1ins)/ 108kgs (17st)  

Sub: Ben Moon- 1.8m (5ft 11’)/ 110kgs (17st 5lbs)

Wasps 

Tom West- 1.85m (6ft 1ins)/ 117kgs (18st 6lbs)

Sub: Jack Owlett- 1.88m (6ft 2ins)/ 120kg (18st 13lbs)

vs Northampton Saints

Alex Waller- 1.87m (6ft 2ins)/ 120kgs (18st 13lbs)

Sub: Francois van Wyk- 1.89m (6ft 2ins)/ 119kgs (18st 10lbs)

Average starter- 1.84m (6ft)/ 117kgs (18st 6lbs) 

Average sub- 1.85m (6ft 1ins)/ 116kgs (18st 3lbs)

GUINNESS PRO14 

Cardiff Blues 

Rhys Gill- 1.8m (5’11”)/ 115kgs (18st 1lbs)

Sub: Corey Domachowski 1.83m (6ft)/ 118kgs (18st 8lbs)

vs Scarlets

Wyn Jones- 1.84m (6ft)/ 114kgs (17st 13lbs)

Sub: Phil Price- 1.85m (6ft 1ins)/ 114kgs (17st 13lbs)

Ulster 

Jack McGrath- 1.85m (6ft 1ins)/ 118kgs (18st 8lbs)

Sub: Kyle McCall- 1.75m (5ft 8’)/ 111kgs (17st 7lbs)

vs Munster

Jeremy Loughman- 1.85m (6ft 1ins)/ 118kgs (18st 8lbs)

Sub: Dave Kilcoyne- 1.83m (6ft)/ 111kgs (17st 7lbs)

Edinburgh 

Jamie Bhatti- 1.87m (6ft 1ins)/ 120kgs (18st 13lbs)

Sub: Pierre Schoeman- 1.87m (6ft 1ins)/ 118kgs (18st 8lbs)

vs Southern Kings

Schalk Ferreira- 1.86m (6ft 1ins)/ 115kgs (18st 1lbs)

Sub: Xandre Vos- 1.77m (5ft 10ins)/ 104kgs (16st 5lbs)\

Leinster 

Peter Dooley- 1.83m (6ft)/ 117kgs (18st 6lbs)

Sub: Ed Byrne- 1.8m (5ft 11ins) / 112kgs (17st 9lbs)

vs Connacht

Denis Buckley- 1.77m (5ft 10’)/ 110kgs (17st 5lbs)

Sub: Paddy McAllister- 1.85m (6ft 1ins)/ 117kgs (18st 6lbs)

Zebre 

Andrea Lovotti- 1.83m (6ft)/ 105kgs (16st 8lbs)

Sub: Danilo Fischetti- 1.83m (6ft)/ 116kgs (18st 4lbs)

vs Cheetahs

Boan Venter- 1.87m (6ft 2ins)/ 120kgs (18st 13lbs)

Sub: Erich De Jager- 1.87m (6ft 2ins)/ 118kgs (18st 8lbs)

Dragons 

Brok Harris- 1.86m (6ft 1ins)/ 121kgs (19st)

Sub:  Aaron Jarvis- 1.83m (6ft)/  116kgs (18st 4lbs)

vs Ospreys

Nicky Smith- 1.83m (6ft)/ 113kgs (17st 11lbs)

Sub: Darryl Marfo- 1.87m (6ft 2ins)/ 115kgs (18st 1lbs)

Benetton Treviso 

Nicola Quaglio- 1.85m (6ft 1ins)/ 110kgs (17st 5lbs)

Sub: Cherif Traore- 1.82m (5ft 11ins)/ 117kgs (18st 6lbs)

vs Glasgow Warriors

Aki Seiuli- 1.83m (6ft)/ 118kgs (18st 8lbs)

Sub: Oli Kebble- 1.91m (6ft 3ins)/ 124kgs (19st 7lbs)

Average starter- 1.84m (6ft)/ 115kgs (18st 1lbs)

Average sub- 1.83m (6ft)/ 115kgs (18st 1lbs)

TOP 14 

Agen 

Malino Vanai- 1.82m (5ft 11ins)/ 122kgs (19st 2lbs)

Sub: Giorgi Tetrashvili- 1.77m (5ft 10ins)/ 112kgs (17st 9lbs)

vs Lyon

Vivien Devisme- 1.75m (5ft 8ins)/ 108kgs (17st)

Sub: Xavier Chiocci- 1.8m (5ft 11ins)/ 122kgs (19st 2lbs)

Racing 92 

Eddy Ben Arous- 1.83m (6ft)/ 110kgs (17st 5lbs)

Sub: Hassane Kolingar- 1.84m (6ft)/ 115kgs (18st 1lbs)

vs ASM Clermont

Loni Uhila- 1.81m (5ft 11ins)/ 125kgs (19st 10lbs) 

Sub: Etienne Falgoux- 1.82m (5ft 11’)/ 110kgs (17st 5lbs)

Bordeaux 

Thierry Païva– 1.84m (6ft)/ 118kgs (18st 8lbs)

Sub: Peni Ravai- 1.85 (6ft 1ins)/ 120kgs (18st 13lbs)

vs Bayonne

Viliamu Afatia- 1.81m (5ft 11ins)/ 131kgs (20st 9lbs)

Sub: Ugo Boniface- 1.9m (6ft 3ins)/ 120kgs (18st 13lbs)

Montpellier 

Mikheil Nariashvili- 1.86m (6ft 1ins)/ 113kgs (17st 11lbs)

Sub: Grégory Fichten- 1.83m (6ft)/ 119kgs (18st 10lbs)

vs Brive

Simon-Pierre Chauvac- 1.9m (6ft 3ins)/ 119kgs (18st 10lbs)

Sub: Karlen Asieshvili- 1.84m (6ft)/ 115kgs (18st 1lbs)

Pau 

Lucas Pointud– 1.84m (6ft)/ 120kgs (18st 13lbs)

Sub: Geoffrey Moïse- 1.87m (6ft 2ins)/ 120kgs (18st 13lbs)

vs La Rochelle

Reda Wardi– 1.85m (6ft 1ins)/ 110kgs (17st 5lbs)

Sub: Mike Corbel- 1.79m (5ft 10ins)/ 118kgs (18st 8lbs)

Toulon 

Sébastien Taofifenua– 1.78m (5ft 10ins)/ 130kgs (20st 7lbs)

Sub: Bruce Devaux- 1.83 (6ft)/ 108kgs (17st)

vs Castres

Wayan De Benedittis- 1.85m (6ft 1ins)/ 107kgs (16st 12lbs) 

Sub:  Paea Fa’anunu- 1.91m (6ft 3ins)/ 125kgs (19st 10lbs) 

Stade Français 

Quentin Béthune- 1.83m (6ft)/ 119kgs (18st 10lbs)

Sub: Sami Mavinga- 1.81m (5ft 11ins)/ 116kgs (18st 4lbs)

vs Toulouse

Clément Castets– 1.85m (6ft 1ins)/ 124kgs (19st 7lbs)

Sub: Rodrigue Neti- 1.8m (5ft 11’)/ 123kgs (19st 5lbs)

Average starter: 1.83m (6ft)/ 118kgs (18st 8lbs)

Average sub: 1.83m (6ft)/ 117kgs (18st 6lbs) 

 

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