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Sizing up to fact that biggest is not always best.

I WILL believe it when I see it, but the era of 'muscle ball' could be coming to a merciful end.

That is, at least, if comments from England scrum coach Graham Rowntree are taken at face value.

The ex-Leicester and England prop is not normally a man to talk in riddles and recent soundbites from their pre-World Cup training camp suggest an increasing premium is being placed on agility rather than pure power.

Amen to that if they make good on a promise which will strike a chord with many rank-and-file followers bored of watching increasingly colossal specimens running into each other.

Rather than a search for space, rugby has evolved into a quest for collisions and the sport as an entertainment product is none the better for it.

"We do not want our boys to get bigger - we have plateaud there," said Rowntree from their training camp.

"You cannot keep running into brick walls and hope to succeed."

As with many trends in world rugby, it is New Zealand's All Blacks who have provided the template.

Running England ragged in the latter stages of last summer's second test, the management have finally twigged biggest is not always best.

This apparent epiphany comes as professional rugby union prepares to celebrate its 20th birthday.

Those last few weeks of amateurism saw Jonah Lomu causing carnage in the 1995 World Cup, New Zealand's nowlegendary winger easily brushing aside an array of policemen, pilots, bankers and brickies en-route to the try-line.

With payments becoming legal after the tournament it was an arms race to develop the biggest, baddest team, buoyed by the aid of full-time training.

In fairness Lomu's was a talent which would have shone in any era and Rowntree's comments should not be taken as any imminent mass depowering of his England team. To be a decent side you need different weapons and the ability to smash or run over the top of an opponent will always be in there.

Such route-one physicality is in the DNA of countries like South Africa and Samoa and all Rowntree is saying is there is more than one way to skin a cat.

By making England agile as well as powerful they increase their ability to break down defences - his approach tallying with that of Newcastle Falcons.

The addition of a synthetic pitch to Kingston Park a year ago has brought a revised recruitment and conditioning focus - pace and evasion moving up the list of priorities.

"When you bring in a pitch like this you have to have people who are able to play on it," said head coach John Wells, the signings of Josh Furno, Marcus Watson and Nili Latu all signalling a move away from muscle ball.

Rugby will never become a game where size is irrelevant but at least there is an acknowledgement it is not the holy grail.

BONUS POINT NEWCASTLE Falcons have rewarded Mark Laycock's excellence as an academy manager by giving him a crack with the senior squad this season.

SIN BIN SAMOA tackled New Zealand yesterday in Apia without Newcastle Falcons' wing Sinoti Sinoti, who was perplexingly overlooked despite a stellar club season.

QUOTE OF THE WEEK "You get paranoid. You feel that the coaches think you're faking it."

England full-back Mike Brown on his prolonged layoff, caused by concussion.

GAME OF THE WEEK EX-Newcastle Falcons captain Carl Hayman lines up for the World XV against South Africa in Cape Town on Saturday.


Coach Graham Rowntree (centre) oversees scrum drills with England's forwards
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Title Annotation:Sport
Publication:Evening Chronicle (Newcastle, England)
Geographic Code:4EUUK
Date:Jul 9, 2015
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