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Changes in northern hemisphere male international rugby union players’ body mass and height between 1955 and 2015
  1. Neil E Hill1,
  2. Sian Rilstone1,2,
  3. Michael J Stacey1,3,
  4. Dimitri Amiras4,
  5. Stephen Chew1,
  6. David Flatman5,
  7. Nick S Oliver1,2
  1. 1 Department of Diabetes & Endocrinology, Imperial College Healthcare NHS Trust, London, UK
  2. 2 Diabetes Endocrinology and Metabolic Medicine, Faculty of Medicine, Imperial College London, St. Mary's Campus, London, UK
  3. 3 Defence Medical Services, DMS Whittington, Lichfield, UK
  4. 4 Department of Imaging, Imperial College Healthcare NHS Trust, London, UK
  5. 5 Bath, UK
  1. Correspondence to Neil E Hill; neil.hill{at}


Objectives We sought to establish the effects of professionalism, which officially began in 1995, on the body mass and height of northern hemisphere male international rugby union (RU) players. We hypothesised that mass would significantly increase following professionalism. We also investigated the changes in size of players according to their playing position, and we compared changes to rugby league (RL) players and the public.

Methods The body mass and height of players representing their international team for that country’s first game of the Five Nations in 1955, 1965, 1975, 1985 and 1995 and, for 2005 and 2015, the Six Nations, were collected from matchday programmes. RL players’ data were collected from the Challenge Cup final games played in the same years.

Results International RU player body mass has significantly increased since 1995. In 1955 mean (±SD) player body mass was 84.8  kg (±8.2); in 2015, it was 105.4  kg (±12.1), an increase of 24.3%. Between 1955 and 2015, the body mass of forwards increased steadily, whereas that of backs has mostly gone up since 1995. RU player body mass gain has exceeded that of RL, but the age-matched difference between RU players and the public has remained relatively constant.

Conclusions The factors influencing the gain in body mass of rugby players are legion; however, we believe that the interpretation of the law relating to the scrum put-in and changes allowing substitutions have, at least in part, contributed to the observed changes. Injury severity is increasing, and this may be linked to greater forces (caused by greater body mass) occurring in contact. RU law makers should adjust the rules to encourage speed and skill at the expense of mass.

  • rugby union
  • weight
  • body mass
  • professionalism

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  • Contributors NEH and NSO conceived the paper. NEH collected the data and wrote the first draft of the manuscript. NSO, SR, SC, MJS, DA and DF contributed to the final version of the manuscript.

  • Funding The authors have not declared a specific grant for this research from any funding agency in the public, commercial or not-for-profit sectors.

  • Competing interests None declared.

  • Patient consent Not required.

  • Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; internally peer reviewed.

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