drawings of muscles and exercise apparatus

Monday, October 06, 2008

Comparative Bodyweight of Australian Professional Rugby Union and Rugby League Players

Over the past few decades Australian Rugby Union and Rugby League players have been getting progressively heavier. Contributing factors have included an increased emphasis on heavy weight training, the use of dietary supplements and the high proportion of Pacific Islanders in teams of both codes. Nevertheless there remains a clear tendency for professional Union players to be heavier than League players as the following table illustrates:

Comparative Bodyweight of Australian Professional Rugby Union and Rugby League Forwards and Backs

Squad/Team (2008)

Av Weight (kg) - Forwards

Av Weight (kg) - Backs


Rugby Union

Australian Wallabies - Squad




NSW Waratahs - Squad




ACT Brumbies - Squad




Rugby League

Manly Sea Eagles – Grand Final Team




Melbourne Storm – Grand Final Team




Like Soccer and Australian Football, Rugby League is a continuous-flow type game, whereas Rugby Union is characterised by frequent stoppages with a significant time lapse before play restarts. Thus Union players require a lower level of aerobic fitness. Not surprisingly then, Union players whether backs or forwards tend to be heavier than their League counterparts.

The table indicates that the difference between the body weights of professional Union and League backs is not particularly great, whereas it is much more substantial in the case of forwards. One reason for this is the need for tall, heavy lineout forwards in Union, who are often around 200cm in height with corresponding body mass. With their high centre of gravity, such players are generally unsuited for Rugby League.

But the main reason for the weight disparity relates to the fundamentally different dynamics of the modern forms of each code. As I pointed out in a 2006 article, "Rugby - the most strength-oriented code of football":

"Rugby players spend considerably more playing time in physical contact and contest with opponents than players in other forms of football.

"Much of this contact involves extended grappling and wrestling, but what is also characteristic of rugby is the amount of time spent attempting to drive forward under loads considerably heavier than bodyweight. Obviously this is so in the scrum and maul, but also at the tackle. Both ball-carrier and tackler may strive to drive one another backward for an extended time after engagement. American football and rugby league are also primarily collision sports, but their tackles tend to terminate much more quickly."

There is an obvious advantage in having greater body mass where the sport requires extended physical engagement, although this may have a cost in terms of reduced mobility. Thus it can be confidently anticipated that Union forwards will always tend to be heavier than League forwards.

Those who advocate or foresee a merging of the two codes of Rugby fail to comprehend the fundamentally different physical demands placed on forwards in Union and League.


Wendy said...

I could not find a RSS feed for your blog. I would like to add you to my Google Reader...why no feed?

Bruce Ross said...

Thanks, Wendy.

I have added the RSS feed to the side bar. Let me know if you have any problems.

I will also add your blog to my blog's links section. I am keen to help promote women's rugby and women's sport in general.


Nursedude said...

It would be interesting to take the study a step further and compare body fat percentages. In watching Rugby League matches, I have always been impressed with the physiques of the players-you don't see anybody who looks like Matt Dunning playing NRL do you? That said, even if Rugby Union players are heavier, and may not seem as fit compared to their league brethren, they are still in a helluva lot better shape than American Football linemen.

I came into rugby late in life-in my mid 40's (playing prop), but I did play American Football in high school (nose tackle). There is no question in my mind you have to be way more fit even in rugby union. I think if you were to ask some of the NFL linemen to go 80 minutes at prop or second row, I really believe you would have fatalities on the pitch.

Bruce Ross said...

One of the aspects that people ignore, ND, is the amount of time that Union players, particularly front row forwards, spend grappling with and otherwise physically engaging with their opponents. In both Rugby League and American Football, once the tackle is effected physical engagement ceases. In Union it is usually only beginning.

By the way, your blogsite is in pride of place now in my Other Links list, courtesy of its alphabetical position.


Nursedude said...

I agree, Bruce. Even as a neophyte, middle aged person taking up the sport, I found my wrestling background to be really helpful in rucking and counter rucking.

Thanks for adding me to your links. That is high praise coming from a guy who has a really serious site not just on rugby, but also the exercise physiology/Kinisiology aspect to training as well.

Bruce Ross said...

No probs, ND, and thanks for the compliment.

You raise an interesting point. The ruck is the only comparatively unstructured part of the game. It is easy to see how a knowledge of wrestling could be very useful in terms of cleaning out or protecting the ball, etc.