Is There An Argument For Size Rather Than Age Group Categories In Rugby?

Enzo big

In the Northern Hemisphere school kids usually play in teams based on their relative age, whilst in New Zealand they group players based on size. This grouping in New Zealand means that rather than the larger physical kids being able to dominate rugby at school levels, smaller more skillful players are also given chance to flourish.

You only have to bear witness to the current All Blacks team to see how this particular approach is paying off. From 1 – 15 every player in the All Blacks side is capable of passing the ball through the hands and off-loading when the situation allows.

Now obviously a large part of this is down to the style of coaching employed in New Zealand coupled with the All Blacks being able to attract the very best sportsmen in the country, unlike in the Northern Hemisphere where the most athletic kids often go on to play football.

However, by grouping kids into teams based on their relative size there is an opportunity to encourage young kids into the game as a result of them not being planted on their arses every weekend thanks to some lad twice their size.

This point came to my attention recently as a result of the below video which shows  French schoolboy Enzo, who at 11 years old is over six feet tall and 96kg (that’s bigger than many international rugby players).

The video above ably demonstrates how Enzo is simply able to bulldoze his way through the opposition, despite obviously having a good level of coordination already. The problem here is two-fold; first of all it’s not going to be doing much for Enzo’s all-round development when he can simply walk his way through the opposition.

He would learn much more by playing against kids who are closer to his size and able to make a serious effort at stopping him. This would therefore encourage Enzo to focus instead on developing skills such as off-loading, stepping and taking contact which are all skills the All Blacks seem to possess in superior quantities to many of their opponents.

The other problem is that imagine being the scrum half on the opposing team and weighing half of what Enzo does. At 11 years old are you really going to be encouraged to come back next week when you risk taking another such battering? For all we know that lad could prove to be the next Aaron Smith, however he could well be put off rugby at a young age and therefore rob sides of his future potential.

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I know many people may suggest the smaller lads need to simply toughen up, however at 11 years old how many people can honestly say they’d be better off for being pummeled every week by players twice their size? Grouping competitors into weight based categories has proven an effective way of increasing competition in many other sports so why not rugby?

Do you think a move to grouping kids based on size rather than age could have long-term benefits in the Northern Hemisphere?

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5 comments

  1. From personal experience, as a teenager I was one of the tallest and heaviest players in my team. I just used to go route 1 and try to smash my way through the opposition. I very rarely passed the ball. In defence no one ever ran at me so I very rarely made a tackle. Eventually everyone caught me up size wise, and I was dropped as I could not pass or tackle properly. So I packed the sport in as I felt I was a liability to my team. It wasn’t until I was 20 that I next started playing.

    Grouping via size & weight I believe would be a better system. I would have had no option but to improve my skills when I started as there would be no waltzing through the opposition, dragging 2 tacklers along with me in the process.

  2. Grouping by weight is great for developing game skills and will bring through much better players. However, the age groupings allow the teams to bond better because they often go to school together. There should be a level of flexibility to allow coaches to identify players with the emotional maturity and physical capability to play in older age groups. I am sure that Enzo would not want to be playing with a colts team when all of his mates are still in the under 12’s

  3. It can’t be just age or size, it has to be a combo and on a case by case basis evaluated by the coaches. That 11 yr old is definitely not as physically developed as a high schooler of the same size and putting him in a high school division would be unsafe for him. In my youth club I’ve got 13 yr olds who are physically bigger than some high schoolers but not athletically as developed and are not suitable for HS rugby.

  4. I completely agree with the NZ model and it’s a proven way of ensuring that ALL players have to have a ‘plan B’ apart from their size and strength. All too often the biggest lads in an age group are seen as the best players- and the smaller players often missed or seen as too small. The difference in core skill levels of NZ players is testament to this- and I say that as an English coach- in County representative rugby for the last 8 years.
    How many smaller boys are put off from playing as a result of negative experiences early on in their rugby ‘careers’? This HAS to be the way forward as well as smaller sided games to ensure repetition of core skills and experience on the ball. The 15 a side game is the core- but shouldn’t be the ONLY rugby that u13s- u17s play. The England RFU MUST take notice!

  5. Very good idea.

    Ah, it’s for kids only.
    As you were.

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