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FEATURE 'The bigger the behemoth, the closer to silverware you get'

'The bigger the behemoth, the closer to silverware you get'
6 months ago

We live in the rugby era not only of big men, but of some very big men indeed. In the second row, it is no longer enough to field a demigod of 6ft 6ins and 120KG, the game has already moved on to the new ‘Monsters of the Midway’ – titans of 6ft 8ins-plus in height, tipping the scales at over 130KG.

Former Wales and British and Irish Lions skipper turned estimable TNT Sports pundit Sam Warburton summed it up nicely in relation to Leinster’s deep dive for their own looming giant.

“You are just going to try and fit into some of the systems that are already in place and just tweak a couple of things… but what I think Leinster need to add is some brute force up front,” he said.

“That is probably what Leinster are missing when it comes to the Champions Cup. Someone like an RG Snyman, who looks like he could be going to Bath, that would be an amazing recruitment for someone like Leinster, just to add someone of that ilk into their pack.

“You don’t want to be detrimental to the development of young players, but you feel a couple of bolstering players in that pack would be what they need. Your [Will] Skeltons, your RG Snymans, that kind of player just to stick in your front five to get you over the finish line.”

Snyman <a href=
Munster team versus Sharks” width=”1024″ height=”576″ /> Standing close to 7ft tall, RG Snyman is a double world champion and URC winner (Photo by Harry Murphy/Sportsfile via Getty Images)

Leinster have tried to match up with their bête noir from La Rochelle, Will Skelton, in recent times, initially via the signing of 6ft 7ins, 125KG one-cap Springbok Jason Jenkins. Now they are taking a second shot at the same target with Jenkins’ team-mate at Munster, Snyman – all 6ft 10ins and 131KG of him. The Dublin province has broken the bank to get Snyman, with a reported salary of half a million Euros per annum on offer.

It is a gamble on a player who has played only four-and-a-half hours of rugby in three seasons for Munster, but that is the way the napkins are folded at the top table of European club rugby. In the Top 14, almost every serious contender for the Bouclier de Brennus can boast a massive unit of their own: to wit Emmanuel Meafou at Stade Toulousain, Thomas Jolmès at Union Bordeaux-Bègles, Paul Willemse at Montpellier, Brian Alainu’uese at Toulon, JJ van der Mescht for ‘the pink army’ of Stade Francais and Romain Taofifenua [due to join Racing 92 in the capital next season] at Lyon.

The bigger the resident behemoth – 6ft 8ins and 145KG apiece of Skelton and Meafou – the closer to winning silverware you get. It is a simple, but brutal mathematical equation.

In Australia, the Waratahs are trying to tap into some French mojo by bringing back Miles Amatosero from the Auvergne, and into their tight-five fold for Super Rugby Pacific. Amatosero is listed at a mere 6ft 8ins and 125KG but his physical frame has ample room for growth. As I suggested, the young tyro will already add much-needed bulk to an undersized Waratahs’ tight five.

Alongside Angus Bell, he represents the future of tight forward play in New South Wales. If the old hands such as Jed Holloway and Dave Porecki can help tease out the optimal versions of Bell and Amatosero, head coach Darren Coleman will be in business sooner rather than later.

Nonetheless, France are about three years ahead of Australia in their development of a new generation of giants. Amatosero is 21 years old and enjoyed only one season with ASM Clermont where he started as many games as he did coming off the pine. In contrast, Meafou, the juggernaut Australian professional rugby passed up, is 25, physically more mature and has been starting for Toulouse since 2020-21.

Meafou will probably run on for Les Bleus during the Six Nations in February, inheriting the mantle previously worn by South African enforcer Willemse. He was recently naturalized as a fully-fledged French citizen in a ceremony at the local city hall in Toulouse, and has now said he is ready to play the part on a national stage.

Sale Toulouse match report
Australian rugby missed its chance to harness the considerable size and talent of Emmanuel Meafou (Photo by Paul Ellis/AFP via Getty Images)

If any doubts remain about the power and presence Meafou will bring to the French pack, they will have been quelled by his performance in the recent Champions Cup game at the Stoop in West London. Harlequins had their tails up after an outstanding away victory over Racing 92, but they could not cope with the Rouges et Noirs colossus.

The raw stats say Meafou played the full 80 minutes, registering the most tackles [15] and the most carries [14] by any tight forward on either side. He added four successful offloads, one line-break assist, two forced fumbles in the tackle and two pilfers out of eight attempts at the defensive breakdown.

Ex-Wasp Joe Launchbury is still a superb all-round second row, but on the day he could not live with the man mountain. Then again, at a mere 6ft 6ins and 125KG, he was two inches shorter and giving away 20KG in weight. That is what life is like at the top table right now. The very big men are eating not just for their clubs, but for their countries.

The best enforcers in the modern game are all top-quality maul-stoppers. If you can halt the opponents’ driving lineout, you can hamstring 30-40% of their attacking options. It is an area in which Meafou excels.

 

 

The snapshot illustrates the outcome of the first Quins attacking lineout. Meafou’s power has comprehensively split the receiver [Dino Lamb] away from the man who is supposed to be protecting his outside shoulder [number eight Alex Dombrandt], and that is the end of the drive.

It was a warning sign of things to come: whenever the home side had the luxury of a red zone lineout, they had to avoid the Toulouse lock. If they threw too close to him [as in the first clip], he penetrated the blocking front; if they threw away from him, he moved up the line and hammered the receiver, forcing an error – after a catch by Launchbury in the second example.

Meafou’s hit on Launchbury was one of a chart-topping four dominant tackles in the game.

 

 

On both occasions poor Launchbury is victimised, but that is the dog-eat-dog business of the Top 14. The big men go looking for each other and scrap it out, mano à mano. Whoever wins that battle gives their team a physical edge, and a big boost in morale. The second hit shows the impact a dominant tackle can make: it destroys the co-ordination of the offence, with Marcus Smith reduced to an aimless meander in midfield on the following play.

The massive lock also dropped low enough to level Quins’ diminutive outside-half with another piledriver.

 

Meafou registered more than two thirds of his key involvements in the second half, so he clearly has a decent motor. There was absolutely no winding-down of the clockwork toy in the last ten minutes.

 

 

Like Skelton he is an immoveable threat over the tackle ball, and he still has the energy left for a big double involvement at the very end, with a rapid-fire carry-offload-carry sequence leading to Toulouse’s final try.

Rugby has stepped up to another level as the size demands on the biggest players grow. Even Leinster have been forced to acknowledge that 6ft 6ins and 115-120KG is no longer enough at the most rarefied level as they wage their ongoing Champions Cup war with Skelton and La Rochelle.

Australia produced some of the biggest and most athletic second rows in previous generations – remember trend-setters Steve Cutler and Bill Campbell on the 1984 Wallabies’ Grand Slam tour? – but they have lagged behind France in recent times. They neglected Skelton for too long and they lost out on Meafou when he was there for the picking. Much now depends on the on the return of Amatosero.

In the meantime, France will be wheeling out their very own ‘elefant’ tank-destroyer. Meafou will add the legalised fear factor which recently-departed Alain Estève, Michel Palmie and Jean-Francois Imbernon used to bring with them more darkly in previous generations. He will seek out targets to blow up in open field with dominant tackles, he will grapple for the ball at ruck and maul, he will bullock and offload with ball in hand. He will be a reminder to the rugby world that few men nicknamed ‘The Godfather’ are in reality, very sweet and cuddly.

Comments

66 Comments
G
GrahamVF 180 days ago

I had been thinking and was beaten to the punch by John. Two of the most successful turnover specialists in world rugby are Quagga Smith and Deon Fourie. One of the reasons why Jake White has failed to kick on is his refusal to select an out and out fetched instead of having five line out options. He famously said the only fetcher I need is my son to fetch me beer from the fridge. As the tackle height comes down which it inevitably will low centre of gravity is going to be pivotal.

j
john 181 days ago

The only way to combat such size is to use speed. In my opinion nobody can play with the speed Australia can, with the right coaching. e.g. Qld Reds 2011.

A
Ardy 181 days ago

Merry Christmas Nick. There is an argument going on in some Australian comment sites that we should let our young talent go, using the Northern Hemi to train them and then we buy them back?
This strikes me as a form of madness.

M
Mzilikazi 183 days ago

I see Scott Fardy has appeared at Connacht as their defence coach, Nick. Will follow him with interest to see how he develops.

M
Mzilikazi 183 days ago

What is so wonderful about several of these really big men is their level of athleticism, which allied to ball carrying and off loading skills, makes them such formidable men to build a team around. Saracens certainly saw that in Skelton and really helped him develop into prbably the best of his type the world has yet seen. Meafou may well stand beside r even above him very soon.

R G Snyman may only have played 4.5 hrs for Munster, but the hours he played in last years URC run with Munster showed what a colossus he can be . But will he ever shake off the injury hoodoo ? I think there is possibly a clause in his Leinster contract to cover his having similar problems in the future.

d
d 183 days ago

Thanks Nick. From an Oz perspective do you think a Skelton type alongside Rory Arnold/frost/Rodda would work or should we be looking at two monsters in the row??

Or should we be looking recruit some South Africans so they can be future wallabies!!

R
Rugby 183 days ago

Very good journalism. A good read.

B
BigMaul 183 days ago

An interesting read.

It’s seemed obvious for a while now that teams need a monster enforcer to reach the top. I’m surprised so few teams have brought through a new generation of monster size locks. Is it just because there aren’t many people that size, or have teams been slow to cotton on? It can’t be hard to scout - just go find the biggest bloke you can!

I would be interested to know of any players coming through around the u20s levels who either are or have the potential to reach those kinds of sizes… any thoughts on that?

A
Adrian 183 days ago

Thanks Nick
Lukhan Salakaia-Loto (LSL to bloggers) is a big unit who is back in Australia.
I always thought that we didn't know how to use him, but hopefully we will now.

125kg+ I think.

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