Size, Strength, Speed and Power

Physicality in the modern game

The Modern game of rugby has certainly come a long way from the days when (if you believe the myth) William Webb Ellis, picked up the ball and ran.

In modern times the average height and weight of a rugby player has increased dramatically. Many in the industry question whether the players themselves can sustain a playing career given the current physicality of the game

Nemani Nadolo

Giants of rugby such as the Fijian winger Nemani Nadolo, who weighs 20st and is 6”5’, encapsulates the physicality of today’s rugby player.

The shocking thing about our Fijian friend is that he is a winger, his physical attributes suggest he would be more suited to the pack. But, he is a 20 stone winger, reported to possess a sub 11 second 100m time – that is a scary prospect. His size alone makes him a formidable threat to any defence, factor in his speed and it is enough to unsettle any coaches

Nemani Nadolo in action for the Crusaders.

Pure Athleticism

To get a sense of the pure athleticism of Nemani Nadolo compare him to Usain Bolt, arguably the greatest athlete in the world. Taking into account Bolts reported current weight of 94kg and his 2015 World Championship winning 100m final time, he generates an average power of 1001.8 W. This is calculated based on the equation Power (W) = Body Mass * Distance2 / Time3.

In comparison, Nadolo weighs 127kg with an anecdotal personal best over 100m of sub 11 seconds (given no exact time we will assume 11 seconds). This means he produces an average of 980.673 W. This is astonishing given the man’s size.

What is really interesting is that Usain Bolt may have the edge on Nemani Nadolo in terms of average power (W) over 100m, but when you relativise this to their respective weights, Nemani comes out on top at 10.4 (W/Kg), whereas Usain comes in at 7.8 (W/kg).

He certainly is an incredible athlete, he even has a “graceful” left boot on him (in the words of Brian Moore) – It is little wonder that he is being hailed as the next Jonah Lomu.

Without knowing what training Nemani’s was involved in over the years it is hard to tell whether it was genetics or hard training which resulted in his incredible, size speed and strength.

Physical Attributes

Research suggests that in Rugby one of the most important physical factors at the elite level is having greater mass than your opponent but at the same time having greater acceleration. Strength and conditioning professional’s should pay particular attention to increasing lower body strength, power and total body mass through appropriate resistance training while maintaining or improving short distance sprint speed and acceleration.

There is a large amount of multidirectional transference to other sports, with the main principle of increasing strength, speed and power whilst maintaining other physical attributes for elite performance.


When Alberto Salazar was bought in to coach Mo Farah one of the first things he did was introduce a strength training regime aimed at improving Mo’s strength and power in his lower body. Fans of athletics will have seen the successful defence of his 5000 and 10000m World Championship titles in Beijing – both with incredible sprint finishes that blew all competition out of the water. Given Mo’s success over the past few years it is clear to see that the increases in strength and power without size had a massive effect on performance.


In the context of Rugby, it is reported that Jonny May England’s winger has reportedly clocked a 10.79 100m – he puts his improved speed down to help from former British track and field athlete Marlon Devenish. The former British athlete was enlisted at May’s domestic club Gloucester to help improve the England wingers speed. Jonny May has stated that the technique changes have helped massively – with the main focus on maintaining a “quiet” upper body when sprinting.


It is quite clear that speed, power and strength are essential pillars of success in the modern sporting arena. With the evolution of sport science the boundaries will continue to be pushed. Rugby is no exception. Will agile 20 stone wingers and players with speed to match elite sprinters be the norm in years to come? Only time will tell. One thing is certain that the need to be an all-round athlete is becoming much more important. With this holistic approach all facets of human performance must be scrutinised and improved in order to compete at the elite level.

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