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.
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?