If the ball size was to change, we ponder if there would need to be any short-term technical adjustments
One of rugby’s enduring debates has sparked back to life again this week – should women play with a smaller ball?
It was prompted after Ireland’s Eimear Considine said on the RTÉ rugby podcast: “I actually don’t know the reasons why we use a size five ball but it’s worth a discussion.
“My hands aren’t big enough (for) a one-handed offload but maybe if there was a smaller ball it might allow for you to be a bit slicker in your offloads. Naturally, we have smaller hands, that’s just our physiology, it’s nothing to do with not being able to play with a size five ball.
“Our skills might improve if we had a smaller ball, that’s a really interesting argument, the fact that a lot of other sports around the world do use a size four ball. I suppose it (would) allow us to do more skills.”
The ball size debate is something we have featured in Rugby World magazine’s Face-Off page in the past, with Simon Middleton and Giselle Mather arguing either side.
However if rugby was to change ball size in the women’s game, would the switch necessitate a change in technique, even in the short-term?
If women play with a smaller ball, what are the short-term effects?
“Even when changing from Gilbert to Rhino, for instance, you naturally see a difference in balls even if they are technically the same size,” says Wasps, England and England Sevens playmaker Meg Jones.
“I think if we did go down to a size four, is it possible to keep a similar weight so then kicking isn’t affected? The only thing I can see affecting it is the surface area of kicking a smaller ball, but I think weight is more important.
“In terms of adjusting actual kicking technique, I don’t think you’d need to unless it’s lighter! A lighter ball means the flight of ball will change. Perhaps a size 4.5 ball?”
Former Northampton and England fly-half Paul Grayson works with Gilbert in developing their ball technology, and explains that “every ball in the last Rugby World Cup, I’d already kicked”. And he has some experience with the smaller ball issue.
He tells Rugby World: “World Rugby came to Gilbert some years ago with the idea of producing a ball for the women’s game. Myself and Ian Savage from Gilbert went through the whole engineering process, under World Rugby regulations, to come up with a ball that was within World Rugby’s size five tolerance, but at the absolute lowest possible end for size.”
The ball was never taken up, but Grayson tells us that: “It is the same ball, it behaves the same way.” Being smaller, he says, there would be fractional differences – and even those would be noticeable – but even if a smaller object travels faster or the target area for any kick is slightly smaller, the mechanics would be the same.
Grayson adds: “On the kicking side you’d need a tiny bit of adaptation, but if you’re talking elite players, it’s minutes (to get used to it).”
The ex-Lions ten also says he would be amazed if introducing a smaller ball didn’t create more opportunities for brilliance, with ball in hand.
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