I look at rugby today and wonder when it all changed.
When, exactly, did everyone become so massive? Whatever happened to diversity?
Once upon a time rugby was a sport for all – whatever your shape, size or personality there was a place for you in the team.
Short and gobby? Scrum half.
Like a pie and a pint? Why not try propping?
Nuggety psycho? Hooker’s your position, old chap.
Lanky with no co-ordination? Try the second row mate.
Barely ten stone wringing wet? Let’s keep you out of harm’s way on the wing, son.
This principle even applied at the elite level where all that was required was the addition of a generous splash of talent and a modicum of fitness and dedication to make it to the top (ok, so I’m exaggerating here for dramatic effect, but you know what I mean). Think Gareth Chilcott or Mike Slemen, for instance, for examples of players at opposite ends of the spectrum.
Nowadays everyone – certainly in the professional game – is a finely tuned athletic specimen of muscle and sinew, able to squat and bench press obscene amounts of weight and, when required, run through brick walls. Scarily it is becoming increasingly common for backs at the top level to be bigger and stronger than the forwards that played internationally when I was a lad. That’s just not right and proper.
Even at grassroots level, at any amateur junior club with any ambition whatsoever physical conditioning is beginning to play a major part, with abs replacing flab at an alarming rate.
The only refuge from this unrelenting spiral into physical perfection appears to be the category of the game known as “coarse rugby” – the basement levels of the game, the bottom of the league structure and the equivalent 3rd or 4th XVs, where shape, size, age and proclivity are irrelevant so long as you turn up approximately on time for kick off and make sure you buy a round in the clubhouse afterwards.
It is the continued existence of this level of the game that gives hope to this overweight former backrower in his fifties, with the turning circle of an ocean liner and all the pace of a tectonic shift, that he may one day take to the rugby field again to play a match with his much younger, fitter, faster and way more talented son.