igger is not always better. Rugby,
to an extent, remains a game for
all shapes and sizes. The power
game is not all conquering. Nearly,
but not quite and for that blessing, thank
the remarkable contingent of Smiths who
have become more than just invaluable
All Black weaponry.
The Smiths are living proof that test
football has not become the exclusive
domain of the collision kings.
Most coaches in the professional game
are obsessed with explosive power. Just as
Wallis Simpson was certain no one could
be too thin or too rich, modern coaches are
seemingly of the view that no player can
be too big.
At times, rugby can look like some kind
of grotesque science experiment where
creatures have been modified in
laboratories with bits stuck on where
they shouldn’t have been. With a similar
mindset to the American hospitality
industry, rugby has come to confuse big
for good.
Quantity of player is typically valued
ahead of quality and in time the whole
business of selection might begin with the
genetic screening of early-stage teenagers.
Look around Super Rugby and the
European Championship for that matter
and its not that uncommon to nd backs
who are in excess of 110kg. Think Robbie
Fruean, Nemani Nadolo, Sonny Bill
Williams, Ma’a Nonu, George North,
Manu Tuilagi and Tim Visser. It would
be unjust to label this group as one
dimensional but the part of their
respective portfolios that most excites the
coaching fraternity is their ability to run
over the top of defenders.
If in doubt smash it up has become the
global coaching mantra of choice. The
power athlete is similar to the oversized
racquet head in tennis: that giant sweet
spot can hide a multitude of technical sins
just as a direct linebreaker can probably
play for years without developing much in
the way of footwork or distribution.
There’s so little space on the field that
most teams begin the process of creating
it with a collision. In fact, most teams
plan for multiple hit ups using their
biggest men.
Owning the contact has been deemed to
be a critical battle and therefore selections
in many teams exclusively reflect that.
The thunderous nature of the contest
can be compelling. There is a fascination
to watching irresistible force meeting
immovable object and rugby can
occasionally hold its audience on the
basis of its physicality alone.
Yet there’s also this undeniable feeling
that the code is selling itself short with
such a preponderance of oversized, direct
athletes chosen more for their destructive
value than their subtlety.
The essence of rugby is that among the
mayhem, there is strategy: there is room
The arrival of Aaron
Smith has allowed the
All Blacks to play at an
incredible tempo.
[ the smiths ]