World Rugby considers smaller size 4.5 ball for women’s game

Home » World Rugby considers smaller size 4.5 ball for women’s game

World Rugby is considering the use of a smaller ball in the women’s game.

The global governing body is collecting training and playing data on the size 4.5 ball which is about 3% smaller and 3-4% lighter than a typical size 5 ball.

“The quality of our work is with the big ball,” England women’s head coach John Mitchell said.

“But if I put on my development hat, these young girls have been exposed to a big ball their whole life.”

He added: “If you’ve got younger girls wanting to come into the game and you have smaller communities that don’t have the ability to play 15s but could do a lot more in schoolyards with smaller balls, if that gives them confidence to play the game then I’m all for it.”

Lindsay Starling, science and medical manager at World Rugby, said “typically an adult male hand is 10% larger” than that of an adult female.

“The women’s playing community is quite divided,” Starling said.

“There’s a big proportion of individuals in this community that think and feel that retaining the use of the same equipment in the men’s game is important.

“So World Rugby have committed to trialling what actually happens if women play with the smaller ball.”

World Rugby confirmed that playing data was gathered at the Women’s Under-18s Six Nations, where sides played with a size 4.5 ball this month, while training data was gathered from three Celtic Challenge sides.

The outputs on this data will be shared when available.

Starling said the smaller ball would be in “better proportion to the female athletes’ hands” and could result in “numerous positive benefits”.

The theory is that by being in better proportion to the player the ball would be easier to hold, there would be fewer knock-ons in contact and it would increase passing speed and accuracy.

This could then create a faster game with fewer rucks and scrums, while kicking and lineout throws might also mean improvements in accuracy and distance.

Changes to equipment in women’s sport is not a new concept. In basketball, the WNBA uses a ball one inch smaller in circumference than that used in the NBA. The 28.5-inch ball is also used by women and girls from age 12 upwards and boys aged 12-14.

In football, an increase in female players suffering ACL injuries is improving the focus on the development of football boots for women.

‘Size 5 is working for us’

Earlier this week, the Rugby Football Union (RFU) confirmed that £12.3m already committed by the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport will be used to help more women and girls get involved in rugby as part of their Impact ’25 programme.

England wing Jess Breach holds similar views to her head coach and is open to hearing the data, but is content with the size 5 ball.

“Currently we are playing with the size 5 ball and it is working for us and that is what we are focusing on currently,” Breach told Rugby Union Weekly. “If World Rugby have the research and they find it will actually benefit us to play with a size 4.5 then I am sure we will work something out. “Maybe the younger generation it might help them. If it helps keep girls in sport and in rugby then why shouldn’t they try it?”

Analysis

Women’s rugby can forge its own path, whether that be in governance, tournament structure, finance, game experience, facilities or equipment. Some ideas could change the face of the sport for the greater good. Others will fall by the wayside as non-starters.

There is always going to be resistance to change whenever a concept like a smaller ball is discussed – this is certainly not the first time. Some who have trialled a smaller ball much preferred the experience and think it improved their game. Others are not keen.

It does seem a wasted opportunity to be closed off to any new data and research opportunities. They could potentially benefit future generations of players.

This includes if the data shows a smaller ball is not good for the women’s game going forward.

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