Size isn’t everything, bigger is not necessarily better, and brawn does not always trump brain, even in such a remorselessly physical sport as rugby. Those are the conclusions Matt Scott arrived at over the summer, leading him to shed ten kilos, and he is convinced that his form has already improved as a result.
Now 29, the Edinburgh centre played stand-off in his early years in the sport before moving to his current position, and when he was first capped by Scotland back in 2012, he was seen as a midfield player of some finesse and intelligence. But as he bulked up and matured his role changed and he began to be used more for his brute force.
It is a quality that has an important part to play in rugby, of course, but Scott believes it was becoming over-emphasised in his own game, to the detriment of his more subtle virtues. So this summer he set about losing some body weight – close to ten per cent of it, in the end – and as a result he is now a fitter, happier player, one who is more able, he believes, to make a bigger contribution to the team.
“It’s a bit of a myth that the bigger you are, the better you are at winning collisions,” explained Scott, who is expected to be in the line-up Edinburgh name today for tomorrow night’s Challenge Cup match at home to Bordeaux-Begles. “Forwards, yes: props, second rows – if you can carry a bit of extra weight it’s good for set piece and those close quarters kind of stuff. But the more mobile you can be as a centre, wing or full-back, you’re going to break as many tackles and win as many collisions and get through more work.
“I’m feeling like I’m getting through a lot more work than I did over the last couple of seasons, and I’m really happy with the physical shape I’m in. I think going back to that type of player is more suited to my skill set.
“I finished last season at around 110kg, now I’m sitting at around 100-101. It’s genuinely just managing what I do in the gym. I’m lucky in a sense that whenever I do a lot of weights, I put on size quite easily. Now I’m doing another conditioning session on the bike instead of lifting more weights.”
Like his fellow centre Mark Bennett, pictured, Scott has been sidelined by injury two or three times in recent seasons, and it was after one spell of rehabilitation last season that he realised he had bulked up to the detriment of his ability on the pitch.
“When I was concussed last year for five months I was probably in the gym four or five times a week. I was running a lot as well, but I kept nudging the weight up. On paper you probably look like a better athlete because with ten extra kilos my body fat was really low, I was running good speed times – but on the pitch I felt knackered all the time just dragging around so much extra weight. You then get over the tipping point of being effective as a rugby player.
“I felt like I didn’t have the speed or agility to make an outside break, so I started carrying differently. I wouldn’t look to run into space, I’d look to run over the top of someone. Now I feel I’m way more mobile, work round the opposite side of the field and get up in support inside of another player. It’s amazing how it changes your perception.”