Rugby Rugby World Cup 2019: Japan may be capturing the imagination, but they might also save the sport

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“A good big ‘un will always beat a good small ‘un,” has become accepted parlance in rugby union.

The saying used to be “rugby’s a game for all shapes and sizes.” But that’s not been true for a while.

As the sport has rapidly evolved in 24 years as a professional entity “the good big ‘un” line has not so much become accepted, as been indoctrinated.

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As coaches have defaulted to picking bigger and bigger players, building on the “gym monkey” culture former England lock Simon Shaw first spoke of a decade ago, power has become king. Size, in rugby, has become everything. It’s the only way, we’ve been told. Meekly, we’ve accepted it as fact.

Throw in a revolution in defensive structure, technique and line speed, driven largely by an influx across the globe of former rugby league coaches into the union code, and the perfect storm has brewed, transforming the sport from a contact game based upon evasion, into the collision game to which we’ve become accustomed. 

Win the collisions, we’re told, and you win the game.

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Anyone who questioned the sustainability of players growing exponentially bigger, and collisions becoming exponentially more fierce, have been gently ushered to one side of the room and told they’re romantic, living in the past. Or just plain wrong. We can’t go back to how it was, can we?

Well no, we can’t. Rugby players today are infinitely fitter, infinitely more skilful and infinitively more committed than they have ever been. The ball is in play for more time than ever before and the game is faster than ever before. The game, on the whole, is better than it has ever been. And that is absolutely a testimony to the professionalisation of rugby union.

But there’s a problem. As players have got bigger, stronger and faster, collisions have increased exponentially. The risks associated with playing professional rugby

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