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Emphasis on skill over size in under-85kg rugby




Rugby was always a game played by people of all shapes, sizes and weights, but in recent years a change has occurred where smaller players are reluctant.

Parents are reluctant to see their child smashed by players twice their size, leading some to choose a milder contact sport.

A solution to keeping the smaller players in the game is under-85kg rugby, which gives the opportunity to play the game with similar-sized players, thereby ensuring continued enjoyment.

New Zealand Rugby is committed to growing the 85kg grades, with a pathway for secondary school players and increased adult participation.

A new club competition for under 85kg rugby was introduced in May 2020. In 2022, 47 teams entered the competition, structured into Northern, Central and Southern conferences. The knock-out competition led to the final between Auckland University and Southern Rugby Clubs at FMG Stadium in Hamilton.

Under-85kg rugby is extremely fast paced, which I can personally attest to, after playing weight-restricted rugby back in the 1980s.

One of the memorable moments was the preseason weigh-in, where all players nervously stepped on the scales, hoping to be under the magical mark.

Club games led to a trial to select a North Harbour team to play Auckland at Eden Park No.2 and I was fortunate enough to make the side. Our club team, Takapuna, won the competition as well so it was a tremendous way to say goodbye to playing rugby.

Props were as fast as wings, forwards ran down backs, all players were of a comparable size.

Weight restrictions allow lighter players to either transition to a higher grade or the old fellows to continue their careers.

Critics will say it is not ‘real rugby’ but if fast 15-a-side rugby is not your thing, then so be it.

Of course, lighter players do make their mark on rugby, but they are the exception not the rule. Going back as far as All Black winger Grant Batty, what these players lacked in size they made up for in courage and feistiness.

Rugbypass collated a World XV of under-85kg players, including Damian McKenzie, Cheslin Kolbe and Romain Ntamac. The team’s weaknesses were listed as set piece/lineouts and strengths were skills and pace. Their main objective was to keep the ball alive and play a sevens style.

Worldwide 85kg rugby is behind New Zealand at this point but there are certain countries who would embrace such a concept, with Sir Graham Henry saying, “Can you image a New Zealand under-85kg team playing a Japan under-85kg team? I think we might struggle.”

Under-85 rugby will play a significant role in building player numbers at grassroots level and allow an opportunity for those who would have quit the game.

Keep an eye on this sport as it can only grow and develop – and it may give you cause to polish the boots again!





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