All Blacks the ultimate breed?
Wellington - Rugby World Cup favourites New Zealand are evolving into a team of "robo-players", taller, leaner and more muscular than their predecessors, a study has revealed.
Researchers at Massey University compared the physiques of the 2005 All Blacks side to the "The Originals" of 1905, the first New Zealand team to tour Europe and the first to adopt the All Blacks moniker.
It found the average 2005 All Black was 187 centimetres (just over six foot one inch) tall and weighed 102.5 kilograms (226 pounds), compared to 175 cm and 81kg a century earlier.
That means the smallest member of the current All Black team set to face France in the Rugby World Cup final here Sunday - fly-half Aaron Cruden (178cm, 79kg) - is still taller and heavier than the average 1905 player.
Massey researcher Jeremy Hapeta said the typical All Black physique was also becoming more uniform across the team, nominating Sonny Bill Williams (191cm, 110kg) as the modern prototype "robo-player".
"Traditionally, if you were short you were put in the backs and if you had a puku (belly) you were put in the forwards, but that was the amateur game," he said.
"Now they want a prototype robo rugby player. Guys like Sonny Bill Williams are evening things up again."
Hapeta said improved nutrition and fewer childhood illnesses partly accounted for the increased size of the All Blacks in the past century, but also cited the rise of professionalism in rugby union in the 1990s as a factor.
"They (modern players) are paid to train and, perhaps more importantly, paid to rest," he said. "Without the competing demands of secondary employment, they train hard and recover well.
"They bulk up at the gym and the best of sports science and nutritional knowledge is applied to making them bigger, faster and stronger."
Hapeta said the statistical trend indicated that even today's hulking behemoths had the potential to be superseded by bigger players in the future.
"We are not going to see the growth spurts at the level we have seen from 1905 to 2005 - 12cm and 7.5kg - we will not see those sorts of leaps," he said.
"But we could see them growing by 1-2cm average height and 2-3kg average weight. You can lay odds that the All Blacks jerseys of the future will come in yet larger sizes."