Weight for age in junior rugby - what's it all mean? - Green and Gold Rugby

Weight for age in junior rugby – what’s it all mean?

Weight for age in junior rugby – what’s it all mean?

All of us would have to been hiding under a rock over the last week to have not seen the much bally-hooed release by Rugby Australia of the changes to junior grading in the U10-U15 age group that can see players moved up or down based on an assessment of skill and weight. But is it all a mirage? Let’s look at the questions I have with the system as I understand it, and work through a bit of a scenario using my son’s age group at his local club. This should be a decent enough microcosm that I would expect should reasonably apply across most junior clubs. But first a quick summary of how I understand it based on the few details available:

Players in the U10-U15 age groups will be able to moved across four levels, (one down, current level and two up) based on size, experience, maturity and skill, assuming they fall outside a scope of height and weight to begin with. They will be then assessed by independent coaches on the criteria listed above and moved around accordingly. That’s basically all I know at this point, and unless you have an inside route to Rugby Australia offices, it is probably all you know as well. Which leads me to questions-

Q1) The announcement is a bit late isn’t it? 

I note that the release of this new plan occurred in the same week as many of the junior clubs in the Brisbane area began training again in these age groups, so I would think there’s some risk of processes being sped up or flat out botched if the plan is to have some of these assessments done prior to the first set of games.

Q2) Who are these independent coaches anyway?

Again this isn’t clear, but one would assume it would be staff from any of the myriad of “training academies” that operate outside of the club structures. If Sydney is anything like Brisbane, most clubs have some connection with these people given the small nature of the rugby community so how easily will true independence be found?

Q3) Do the players in the upper age bands even need this?

Now this is specific to the U14-U15 age players. In my experience the skill gaps tend to be narrower from this point on and size becomes less of a factor as well. Not to say that it’s irrelevant, especially for someone new to the game. In my view this would probably have been more effective in the U8-U12/13 cohort, where one bigger/faster/stronger (particularly faster) can utterly dominate games to the level where it becomes a farce.

Q4) What are the height/weight markers anyway?

I’ll go into this in more detail shortly with my example but one of the great things about rugby is it really is a game for all sizes, and as you move into the upper end of the proposed band, tall locks, stout props and small yappy halfbacks do start to differentiate themselves. Obviously puberty can be a great influence here, with large growth spurts meaning a prop suddenly become a centre, but this is again unlike the younger age groups where one size usually fits all.

Case Study

My son will be in the U15 age group this year- it’s a medium sized club in the Brisbane sense- with anywhere from two to five teams per age group, that tend to thin out as the ages go up. I’d call it middle of the road in terms of success and production of representative players. Now my son is an average player, never made a rep team, and unless some miracle occurs, never will. He’s fluctuated between the top and bottom side at his club and to be honest is more about playing with his mates than wearing a rep shirt.

The rest of the age group is pretty broad- with kids ranging from perhaps 50kg to our largest player who tips the scales at around 110kg. He is what would be considered a gun, and when his mind is right can turn games around with aggression, pace and skill. In terms of height it’s is fairly similar story with around 35cm across the bunch. A couple of these kids are just over 6ft in the old money. Last year we managed to put out 4 or 5 rep players, across a few positions including prop, lock, flanker and halfback.

Reg has posted a picture of his son in a rep team (below) dwarfed by the giants around him, and pointed out the size difference. But as I understand it, he wouldn’t be moved down or up as it stands because as a rep player, there’s an assumption that he’s at an adequate level. In fact, could you argue that as a rep player, he could be moved up? It’s an odd one, as size wise he’d possibly fall in the lower category but as a rep player he’d more than likely destroy them.

Copy of Team Line Up

Reg Jnr is #21 in the middle hiding under his team mates’ arm pits

Even my decidedly average son who scores once every three years and plods around wouldn’t be a candidate as he is neither too big or too small- he’s maybe 5 foot 9 and 85 kgs.

While you’d think my 6 foot, 110kg lock might be an option to go up, experience tells me that while he may dominate at age level (and even this has diminished over the past few years), he would struggle with the physical maturity playing a year up.

I’ve been lucky enough to be involved with managing rep teams over the last four years or so, and you tend to stand there looking at the next age group up thinking they are enormous and the one below you is tiny, compared to all of your own squad.

This is also why despite there being eligibility built into it, there were very few U14 players picked for the three Queensland sides at the Junior Gold Cup last year, my figures aren’t exact but over the 75 odd players there would only have been a handful of U14’s there, and almost no forwards.

So if we go back to club land, I honestly can’t see any of the players in our year level at our club being moved either up or down. One reason is we have two squads so can pick appropriate divisions within the comp to aim for, and simply, almost none of the squad would have ticked enough of the boxes to justify the move. Our smallest player plays on the wing and struggles at times but in the same breath it isn’t dangerous for him to be out there in any way.

Now there are always going to be exceptions to this but even our most gifted player in terms of size and destructive power would likely struggle to adapt to a higher level if made to play up a year let alone two.

All in all I think that there are still too many uncertainties in the Rugby Australia plan to make a truly fair assessment but if you use some common sense and start to really look at the criteria it seems fairly clear that only those who are either absolute clear cut stand outs or those totally new to the game at this late age are likely to be caught out. Even less so if your child plays at a club that happens to have two or more teams in the age co-hort. Kudos to Rugby Australia for finally trying to grasp the nettle on this, but in all likelihood, this will be much ado about nothing.


  • Who?

    Some great points, Ben. Here’s my take on some of your points.

    Q1, is it late? Absolutely! In my region, the teenage comp starts this Sunday!

    Q2, who are the independent coaches? Maybe that works in Brisbane, but in the regions, there’s no such thing as an independent coach. In these cases, perhaps a Development Officer would work, but they’re generally too busy to get around the clubs anyway. So my expectation is that the players will likely be a senior coach in the club, not affiliated with the player on a weekly basis. They’ll need to receive input from the regular coach as to the player’s history, then watch them train, at a guess.

    Q3, do older players need it? I say yes. A few years ago, when my son was in U10’s, there was a kid who wanted to play U14’s. His mates were all U14’s, but he – by birth – was U15. He was 49kg. I had five players in my U10’s team who were heavier than him (and three who were half his weight)! If he’d been allowed to play U14’s, he’d have been way out in the backs. In fact, in my region, where we run a combined U16/17 competition, I think it’d be useful for U16’s, if they had the option to play down in U15’s, if they’re not big.

    Q4, what are the markers? That’s the BIG question! I hope they’re sensible – say, top and bottom 25th percentiles of the growth charts. If they’re based on Sydney’s system (which was eminently sensible), they should be, and there should also be allowance for girls to play down the age group at a larger size based on percentiles than boys. In the SJRU system, from memory, it was the bottom 25th percentile that were permitted to apply for an exemption to play down an age group, and the bottom 50th percentile of girls. This wasn’t an automatic decision for kids – if you played down, you weren’t going to make rep (because rep was still based on your age, not your size). So experienced, confident kids played where they were supposed to play by age, and kids who were small and lacking confidence found that confidence by playing against kids who didn’t tower over them.

    You’ve said:

    if you use some common sense and start to really look at the criteria it seems fairly clear that only those who are either absolute clear cut stand outs or those totally new to the game at this late age are likely to be caught out.

    I agree the majority won’t move. The majority shouldn’t move, you need to learn to tackle kids who are all different sizes, that’s what you do as adults. Genia still has to tackle Tupou and Rodda this weekend.
    You also said:

    Kudos to Rugby Australia for finally trying to grasp the nettle on this, but in all likelihood, this will be much ado about nothing.

    This is where I disagree. For clubs like mine, where we’ve got one team (regional club), it can be the difference between retaining and losing a player, which can be the difference between retaining and losing the family, which can be the difference between retaining or losing a team in an age group. I’ve seen a good number of kids play up over the years, including my son (who’s well below average on the growth charts, and isn’t a gun – not motivated!). I’ve seen players choose to play an age group above, then come back to play rep. The ability to play up isn’t new, it’s a good option, but I don’t think it should be forced. But the ability to play down an age group, based on size and confidence/competence, is huge. Sydney’s done it for years, it’s worked well for them, it’s great that the rest of us can now follow their lead. And it’s great that the ARU can show parents that they’re not being unnecessarily rigid – there’s flexibility for those who are concerned, and this is based off significant study and experience. It’s not scattergun policy, it’s researched.

  • Douglas

    Interesting points Ben, my 5c worth:

    Q1 – Better late than never but I agree this should have been announced six months ago or at least before clubs began registrations for the new season. I noticed the height & weight fields in my two sons (U11 & U9) registration forms and wondered if they were headed this way, didn’t expect it this season though!

    Q2 – This will be interesting, how do they plan to adequately assess the skill levels of so many players before the season kicks off? Will they use the stats from previous seasons to identify over or underperforming players?

    Q3 – I have no experience in these age brackets yet. Personally I’d like to see it introduced at U8 when they begin tackling. My youngest boy played U8 last year, he’s average size and weight but came up against players who would easily be another half his height and weight above him. Seeing them tackle or land on top of smaller players was concerning.

    Q4 – Im guessing they’ll gauge the average weight and height from the collected data, pick the outliers first then continue from there.

    I think its good to see this being addressed, I don’t think they’ll get it right straight away but hopefully will continue to refine the process.

  • Alister Smith

    Perhaps too late but not too little. I didnt play junior rugby, I played junior league but with a birthday in mid to late December I was as much as 11 months younger than some team mates. I had a game for the age group below once and there was a notable difference. Still I think this will be good for the big kids as well as the little kids. I noticed when coaching junior rugby that some of those early developing kids get to rely a little too much on their superior physical attributes and sometimes don’t develop skills at the same rate so when they go into Colts where things start to even up a little and definitely grades when they go from being the biggest to an average or even below average size player for their position they can struggle and I think many of those big child prodigies don’t last.

    I also think though that some smaller boys will still want to play with their mates and, I think if a boy wants to remain in his age group, even if he is struggling for size, he should be able to. Don’t use this to “protect” boys who dont want to be protected – some of those tough little bastards are the ones that turn out to be champions – particularly if they develop speed or a step or hit the weights room and I have seen (and personally had it done to me) a lot of big lumps dumped on their arse by boys that are too small.

  • Trent Randel

    I’ve been involved with at club committee level in Brisbane for the past 5 years and I disagree. Firstly, the policy states a level 2 coach must assess. If your coaching under 15s you won’t qualify. That said, most clubs can enlist senior coaches that can be a reasonable judge. Anyone that slips through that process should be picked up in trials.
    2nd, kids have been able to play up for years. But in some instances this shouldn’t happen. For some.reason parents will demand to play their child up so they can play with their friends. So many times I see kids playing in the forwards that just should not be there.
    3rd, in rare instances some kids should play down. My son.would probably continued to play this year but after last year has chosen something else. At just over 40kgs and 5 foot playing in u15s he got thrown around like a rage doll. He loves the game but just can’t compete at the moment. Im confident in a couple of years his body will change and he will play again. I think this will change will keep kids playing and that.must be our objective at junior level.
    Lastly, if by some miracle we manage to get everyone registered via rugbylink this week. Which I personally think is a much bigger issue than this. We still have till the end of March to sort it out. Will it be perfect no, but its a start.

    • Who?

      I hate the online only deal with RugbyLink… Makes it far too hard to sign some kids up. No idea why online sign on couldn’t have been added without it becoming the ONLY option…
      I agree with most of the rest of your points, except I’ll note that not only is it meant to be a Level 2 coach who qualifies people, it’s also not meant to be up to the coaches to identify the kids. From my read, it should be automatically calculated from the height/weight info on the sign on forms, checked against the ARU’s criteria (standard growth charts and bell curve). So I’m expecting that it won’t be families or players asking for players to be moved, it’ll largely be kids being assessed as to whether they should be moved, and then there’ll be some capacity for input from the player/family. I think that’s the safer way, rather than relying on coaches to identify players by eye.

  • Johnno

    Under-15 boys(guys in year 10 but turn 15 in like Jan-March of that year), have made schoolboy 1st 15 rugby sides before.
    And didn’t Elton Flatley make the Nudgee college 1st 15 when in year 8 as a 14 yr old.. And Elton Flatley ain’t no “big boy giant” he was hardly a mini Jonah Lomu, his adult height he reached was only 178cm, but he was able to handle 1st 15 rugby at aged 14 or 15 and was probably only about 5’7 or 5 foot 8 at the time, and he more than coped he was an outright schoolboy sensation at rugby union…
    When I was at school in the 1990’s I knew plenty of u-16 players who made the 1st 15(open’s rugby 17’s/18’s in other words) and the occasional u-15’s player got picked to for the 1st 15… So this weight for age stuff is a bit of a myth when you look how well Elton Flatley went for a young guy who was just of average size but playing with guys 17 and 18 when he was only 14 or 15..


Passionate about rugby from the grass roots up. Usually found at Brisbane club rugby games, or being involved in the junior and schools system. Love a chat, happy to admit when I'm wrong. I will watch any game of rugby regardless of who is playing, from juniors through to tests

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