Size is now the least important characteristic in selecting young talent, according to London Irish academy director Nick Kennedy.
The RFU’s annual anti-doping report was launched yesterday as part of the ongoing effort to tackle the use of illegal performance enhancing substances and recreational drugs in rugby.
Kennedy – a former Exiles, Harlequins, Toulon and England lock – insists that young players who think getting to top level rugby is all about getting as big as possible are just plain wrong.
The 33-year-old emphasised that core skills would always triumph in the professional arena.
“As an academy coach we are looking for talented, intelligent rugby players – not just the biggest kids out there,” he said.
“We want guys that have good spacial awareness and skills, and while it does vary by position, nowadays we need props that can pass well under pressure and full-backs that can catch the ball consistently.
“Size does not matter really. We recruit fairly young now – usually 14 to 16-year-olds – and everyone grows at different rates so you have to concentrate on the skills aspect.
“Young guys that think rugby is all about getting big are wrong. They should spend as much time with a rugby ball playing the game as they can.
“We try to encourage our guys to touch a rugby ball 200 times a day so they are comfortable with it.”
The testing programme last season comprised 536 tests, taken in and out of competition, and included both targeted and random selections.
The report confirmed five positive results ranging from university to Level 1 of rugby and one case of possession and trafficking at county level.
Six additional cases from last season are ongoing and not included within the report.
Separately, 481 tests were conducted as part of the RFU's Illicit Drugs Programme, where four positive results were found.
The cases concerned are treated confidentially with a 'first strike' fine and access to assessment, rehabilitation and counselling. 84% of all available players were tested at least once during the season.
Education sessions were also delivered across all Premiership Rugby clubs last season.
The RFU’s report also reveals the steps taken alongside UK Anti-Doping to educate young people and prevent substance abuse.
These include enhanced testing methods, outreach programmes and increased education at elite and club level, and Kennedy was adamant the academies are firmly against the overuse of supplements.
He said: “Our concentration is on nutrition, lifestyle and having a well-balanced diet. If you’ve got those things right you don’t really need supplements at that stage.
“Obviously some of our older guys do need them as they work so hard, but it is a tiny bit extra and our focus is on educating them about when and how to use them.
“We have excellent strength and conditioning coaches who speak on an individual basis with each player.
“The emphasis is always about developing skills and making them better rugby players.
“If you look at Richie McCaw’s book, he says when he was younger it was all about running for him. He doesn’t talk about getting bigger and stronger, he talks about getting fit and handling the ball. So that is a lesson that the English academies have been learning from one of the best.”