While it is hard to perfectly describe what an ideal outside centre looks like, there are still expectations and requirements among different rugby cultures. The best No.13s in history have differed from one another in terms of height and weight, but have all been successful, as it is a position where there is not necessarily a blueprint to which players should aspire to.
But there are still patterns that emerge when comparing outside centres across the top three leagues in Europe, France’s Top 14, England’s Gallagher Premiership and the Guinness Pro14.
The best week so far in 2020 to compare the three leagues was probably the first in January, as that was the last time teams could field their strongest teams before the European cups, the Six Nations and now the coronavirus outbreak.
When looking at the No.13 position, there is a discernible divide between the Premiership and the other two leagues in Europe, with the English league fielding significantly bigger players.
The centres in the Top 14 and the Pro14 are nearly identical, only differing slightly in height. The average weight in both leagues was 94kg (14st11lb), while the French league was on average only a centimetre taller at 1m84 (6’0”) compared to 1m83 (6’0”).
There is still some differentiation between the two leagues though, partly the range of sizes in the Pro14, which had the joint heaviest, the lightest and the joint shortest players in Europe. These were the Cheetahs’ Sibusiso Sithole at 107kg (17st), the Scarlets’ Steffan Hughes at 83kg (13st1lb), and Glasgow Warriors’ Nick Grigg at 1m75 (5’9”).
So while there is quite a range of sizes of Pro14 outside centres, there is much more parity across the league in France, as was the case with inside centres as well. The Top 14 had no players over 100kg (15st11lb) while the Pro14 had three, and only two under 90kg (14st2lb) compared to the Pro14’s three, meaning the French league tends to stick roughly to the same bracket.
Likewise, no player was taller than 1m90 (6’3”) in France, while Leinster’s Garry Ringrose was, and only one player, Brive’s Guillaume Galletier, was under 1m80 (5’11”), while three were in the Pro14, and four more were exactly 1m80.
In spite of there being more extremes in size in the Pro14, it still matches up almost identically to the Top 14 in the No.13 shirt.
The stark difference is between those two leagues and the Premiership, where outside centres weighed 5kg (11lb) more on average at 99kg (15st8lb). The English league also boasted taller outside centres on this weekend on average, at 1m87 (6’2”).
This was the same in the inside centre position, which is an indication that the Premiership is a league that favours larger centres. In this circumstance, there was an even greater difference in average weights between the Premiership and the other two leagues than there was at No.12.
One feature, however, which perhaps illuminates a cultural difference between France and the British Isles, is that the outside centres in the Top 14 tended to weigh more than their midfield partner inside.
Only 43 per cent of the No.13s across France were lighter than the player inside them, with 50 per cent being heavier, and the rest being the same.
French clubs have all but halted recruitment as the pandemic accelerates changes to the LNR that JIFF recruitment regulation had already started
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The Premiership and Pro14 are quite similar in this respect, as only 33 per cent were heavier in the Premiership, and 29 per cent were heavier in the Pro14. Having said this, two of the No.13s in England that were lighter than their partner still weighed in at over 100kg, which is yet again another indication of the league’s proclivity to pick more sizeable midfield combinations.
In terms of height, there was more or less an even split as to whether the outside centre was taller or shorter than the inside centre in France and England, although 71 per cent were smaller in the Pro14. Then again, the height of a centre can vary, as it does not carry as much significance as it does in the pack.
French rugby has largely opted to field larger outside centres in the modern era, with players like Aurelien Rougerie, Mathieu Bastareaud and Virimi Vakatawa wearing the shirt this century to devastating effect. So in this respect, the Top 14 still maintains that custom, whereas teams elsewhere tend to deploy more colossal No.12s.
Damian Hopley sets the record straight about the alleged strike action by Premiership players https://t.co/yFOBrjAlhI
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With that in mind, there were still five players in England on this weekend that weighed more than the heaviest three players in France, Stade Français’ Gaël Fickou, Bayonne’s Alofa Alofa, and ASM Clermont Auvergne’s Isaia Toeava, all of whom were 100kg (15st11lb), as well as one that weighed the same. Leicester Tigers’ Jaco Taute, was the heaviest across England, and joint heaviest in Europe, at 108kg (17st).
Similarly, there were five players in England that were taller than Fickou, who, at 1m90 (6’3”), was the tallest player in France, with London Irish’s Curtis Rona being the tallest in Europe at 1m95 (6’5”).
This goes to show that while the Top 14 does play larger outside centres, they are still dwarfed when compared to those in England. This may surprise some given the physical nature of the French league up front.
While the packs in the Top 14 traditionally are more formidable physically than those in the Pro14, the two leagues are much more equal in the midfield. Meanwhile, the Premiership takes on the mantle of being the physically imposing league in the centres, with their players out-matching their counterparts elsewhere in Europe.
*stats are taken from each club’s website.
Agen: Johann Sadie- 1m88 (6’2”)/ 96kg (15st2lb)
Lyon: Pierre-Louis Barassi- 1m88 (6’2”)/ 91kg (15st5lb)
Racing 92: Virimi Vakatawa- 1m86 (6’1”)/ 92kg (14st7lb)
ASM Clermont Auvergne: Isaia Toeava- 1m81 (5’11”)/ 100kg (15st11lb)
Bordeaux-Begles: Jean-Baptiste Dubié- 1m81 (5’11”)/ 86kg (13st8lb)
Bayonne: Alofa Alofa- 1m85 (6’1”)/ 100kg (15lb11lb)
Montpellier: Arthur Vincent- 1m82 (6’0”)/ 90kg (14st2lb)
Brive: Guillaume Galletier- 1m78 (5’10”)/ 89kg (14st)
Pau: Alexandre Dumoulin- 1m89 (6’2”)/ 97kg (15st4lb)
La Rochelle: Geoffrey Doumayrou- 1m86 (6’1”)/ 92kg )14st7lb)
Toulon: Julien Hériteau- 1m82 (6’0”)/ 96kg (15st2lb)
Castres: Thomas Combezou- 1m82 (6’0”)/ 93kg (14st9lb)
Stade Francais: Gaël Fickou- 1m90 (6’3”)/ 100kg (15st11lb)
Toulouse: Sofiane Guitoune- 1m84 (6’0”)/ 97kg (15st4lb)
Average: 1m84 (6’0”)/ 94kg (14st11lb)
Sale Sharks: Sam James- 1m93 (6’4”)/ 98kg (15st6lb)
Harlequins: Cadan Murley- 1m75 (5’9”)/ 96kg (15st2lb)
Saracens: Alex Lozowski- 1m84 (6’0”)/ 90kg (14st2lb)
Worcester Warriors: Ashley Beck- 1m91 (6’3”)/ 100kg (15st11lb)
Gloucester: Chris Harris- 1m88 (6’2”)/ 104kg (16st5lb)
Bath: Jonathan Joseph- 1m83 (6’0”)/ 91kg (15st5lb)
Leicester Tigers: Jaco Taute- 1m91 (6’3”)/ 108kg (17st)
Bristol Bears: Piers O’Connor- 1m85 (6’1”)/ 102kg (16st1lb)
Wasps: Malakai Fekitoa- 1m87 (6’2”)/ 99kg (15st8lb)
Northampton Saints: Rory Hutchinson- 1m81 (5’11”)/ 95kg (14st13lb)
London Irish: Curtis Rona- 1m95 (6’5”)/ 101kg (16st)
Exeter Chiefs: Ollie Devoto- 1m92 (6’4”)/ 101kg (16st)
Average: 1m87 (6’2”)/ 99kg (15st8lb)
Ulster: Luke Marshall- 1m80 (5’11”)/ 97kg (15st4lb)
Munster: Sam Arnold- 1m83 (6’0”)/ 95kg (14st13lb)
Cardiff Blues: Rey Lee-Lo- 1m80 (5’11”)/ 90kg (14st2lb)
Scarlets: Steffan Hughes- 1m78 (5’10”)/ 83kg (13st1lb)
Edinburgh: James Johnstone- 1m78 (5’10”)/ 90kg (14st2lb)
Southern Kings: Sibusiso Sithole- 1m80 (5’11”)/ 107kg (17st)
Leinster: Garry Ringrose- 1m91 (6’3”)/ 94kg (14st11lb)
Connacht: Kyle Godwin- 1m87 (6’2”)/ 93kg (14st9lb)
Zebre: Giulio Bisegni- 1m80 (5’11”)/ 88kg (13st2lb)
Cheetahs: William Small-Smith- 1m84 (6’0”)/ 94kg (14st11lb)
Dragons: Tyler Morgan- 1m86m (6’1”)/ 104kg (16st5lb)
Ospreys: Tiaan Thomas-Wheeler- 1m90 (6’3”)/ 98kg (15st6lb)
Benetton Treviso: Iliesa Ratuva- 1m86 (6’1”)/ 100kg (15st11lb)
Glasgow Warriors: Nick Grigg- 1m75 (5’9”)/ 89kg (14st)
Average: 1m83 (6’0”)/ 94kg (14st11lb)
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