Scientists predict All Blacks to grow in strength

October 19, 2011
The growing height of the All Blacks from 1905 to 2005.

The iconic image of Sonny Bill Williams’ muscles bursting out of his jersey is a legacy from a Rugby World Cup where the spotlight has been on physique.

Now Massey University sport scientists have demonstrated visually how the All Blacks are much bigger with more muscle mass than their predecessors.

They have tracked the height and weight of our top players to create a display on behalf of the University entitled The changing physique of the All Blacks, 1905-2005, which is housed in the Rugby Museum in Palmerston North.

The data also shows a recent trend to the build of players becoming more uniform, regardless of their position on the field.

The information, which ranges from 1905 to 2005, was collected by a team from the School of Sport and Exercise led by Associate Professor Steve Stannard and lecturer and former Manawatu rugby player Jeremy Hapeta.

It shows on average, a team member in the All Blacks in 2005 was 187cm tall, or 12cm taller, than the ‘average’ 1905 Originals player. His weight, at 102.5kg, was some 7.5kg greater than the heaviest of the Originals. The lightest player in 2005, at 84kg, was still 3kg heavier than the ‘average’ Original.

Mr Hapeta says while the general population is getting bigger in terms of ‘quantity’ of mass, which is related to the global obesity epidemic, the All Blacks are getting better in terms of ‘quality’ – they are more muscly. While the average height of the 22-man All Blacks semi final squad that beat the Wallabies on Saturday was 187.5cm, their weight was 105kg with another 2.5kg of lean muscle compared to 2005.

All Blacks’ changing weight over 100 years.

The sport scientists estimated body shape through the Body Mass Index (BMI) calculation. Mr Hapeta says in 1905 the difference in BMI between players was small with their physical sizes and shapes all quite similar. “If a player mislaid his jersey, he could probably borrow a near fit from a team member,” he says Mr Hapeta.

In the 1985 ‘pre-pro’ and 1995 ‘semi-pro’ teams, the variance in BMI was more than double that of the Originals, meaning that players were much more varied in shape, probably due to positioning specialisation. However in 2005 the variation in BMI is decreasing again with the build of the players becoming more uniform.

“Traditionally if you were short you were put in the backs and if you had a puku you were put in the forwards but that was the amateur game. Now they want a prototype ‘robo’ player. Guys like Sonny Bill Williams are evening things up again.”

Mr Hapeta attributes the reason for growth to fewer childhood illnesses and better nutrition during the last century, leading to better health and improved physical characteristics for future generations. But he says the professionalism of the game is a key factor in players getting vastly fitter and larger.

“They are paid to train and, perhaps more importantly, paid to rest,” says Mr Hapeta. “Without the competing demands of secondary employment, they train hard and recover well. They bulk up at the gym and the best of sports science and nutritional knowledge is applied to making them bigger, faster and stronger.”

Mr Hapeta says if the emergent trends are anything to go by, we are not yet approaching the limits of the possible.

“We are not going to see the growth spurts at the level we have seen from 1905 to 2005 – 12cm and 7.5kg – we will not see those sorts of leaps but we could see them growing by 1-2cm average height and 2-3kg average .”

“You can lay odds that the All Blacks jerseys of the future will come in yet larger sizes,” he says.

Explore further: Modern society made up of all types

Related Stories

Modern society made up of all types

November 4, 2010

Modern society has an intense interest in classifying people into ‘types’, according to a University of Melbourne Cultural Historian, leading to potentially catastrophic life-changing outcomes for those typed – ...

Milky Way in mid-life crisis

May 25, 2011

( -- The Milky Way is suffering from a mid-life crisis with most of its star formation behind it, new research from Swinburne University of Technology has shown.

World Cup Twitter ban for All Blacks

June 17, 2011

All Blacks players have been banned from communicating directly with fans via Twitter during this year's World Cup, amid fears the microblogging website will prove a distraction during the tournament.

Recommended for you

Chimpanzees shed light on origins of human walking

October 6, 2015

A research team led by Stony Brook University investigating human and chimpanzee locomotion have uncovered unexpected similarities in the way the two species use their upper body during two-legged walking. The results, reported ...

The hand and foot of Homo naledi

October 6, 2015

The second set of papers related to the remarkable discovery of Homo naledi, a new species of human relative, have been published in scientific journal, Nature Communications, on Tuesday, 6 October 2015.

Who you gonna trust? How power affects our faith in others

October 6, 2015

One of the ongoing themes of the current presidential campaign is that Americans are becoming increasingly distrustful of those who walk the corridors of power – Exhibit A being the Republican presidential primary, in which ...

The dark side of Nobel prizewinning research

October 4, 2015

Think of the Nobel prizes and you think of groundbreaking research bettering mankind, but the awards have also honoured some quite unhumanitarian inventions such as chemical weapons, DDT and lobotomies.


Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.