Thanks to Ziyaad Parker, one of the authors of the full text reference, for this article. Follow Ziyaad on twitter: @ZiyaadParker7 These two players (left and right) are opposing captains of their respective under-14 (i.e. 13 year old) rugby teams in Cape Town, South Africa. For reference, the referee (middle) is of average height ( about 6 ft.).
Attempting to identify a future Goliath is hampered by this stat: only 31% of players selected at U13 Craven Week appear at the U18 Craven Week a few years later 1.
That’s correct, talented young players do not necessarily become talented older players – in fact, more often than not, they don’t: the majority of players selected for the U13 Craven Week do not go on to be selected at subsequent U16 Grant Khomo and U18 Craven Week. There are two theories which try to explain these findings i.e. the attributes that determine success at U13 level are different to those that determine success at U16 and U18 level; or the player has characteristics associated with success in rugby but those characteristics change over time. Growth and maturation occur between the age groups in question (13-18 years). As each individual is not the same as the next, this process occurs at different rates resulting in some 13 year olds being taller and heavier than other 13 year olds (See picture). However, by the time both players reach 17 years old the advantage that an early-maturer had over a late-maturer, in terms of size, may have diminished thus resulting in an even playing field for both players in that regard.
Talent identification is a complex process especially in a sport like rugby in which size is related to performance. Therefore, predicting future success from participation in junior tournaments such as U13 Craven Week may not be accurate as so few players convert U13 success to success at U18 level.
Reference (full text freely available)
1. Durandt, J., Parker, Z., Masimla, H., and Lambert, M. Rugby-playing history at the national U13 level and subsequent participation at the national U16 and U18 rugby tournaments. South African Journal of Sports Medicine 2011;23(4)