Article by John Matich
When he was a young boy, Dan Carter would often cry after rugby games. Small and not very strong, Carter found himself playing against kids twice his size, who would flatten his attempts to tackle them. Wishing to keep getting better at the game, Carter would spend hours after school practicing with the ball. Passing, catching and kicking it over his family home, where he had a set of posts in the back yard.
Sure, he was small. And sure, he might’ve not felt like he was physically a match for the other players. But he wanted to be good, so he practiced despite this. And so it happened, that years later, because of this practice that Carter eventually became the highest-rated rugby player in history, in one of the greatest sporting teams of all time.
Ball handling skills
Aside from cardiovascular fitness, the fundamental skill in rugby is being able to handle the ball well. Without good handling skills, no team or player, no matter the level, will fall apart. As you are going to be facing head-on collisions with other people, and likely playing in tough, wet conditions – being confident with your passing, kicking, and catching is essential.
Because in order to win, you need to get the ball over the line.
This is why your practice should always be centred around the ball. Endlessly drilling your technique until the rugby ball feels at home in your hand. This is something that New Zealanders learn from a young age – developing a skill of ‘catch passing’ where they are capable of sending the ball to the next player as soon as it touches their hands.
With this in mind, here’s everything you need to know about which rugby ball to buy.
What size rugby ball should I get?
Rugby balls come in a variety of sizes. On average, these sizes are:
5 – 285mm length, 752mm circ, 585mm girth
4 – 275mm length, 720mm circ, 555mm girth
3 – 255mm length, 680mm circ, 540mm girth
The rugby ball you should use will correspond to your age, as that will determine which size ball will see competitive play at your age range. Size 5 is used by ages 15 and up, size 4 is used by ages 10-4 and size 3 is used by ages 9 and under.
Although some size balls might suit your hand size better, you should always use the ball that is used by your age range otherwise you will find yourself unused to handling it, stumbling, dropping it and maybe even on the wrong side of a tackle.
What types of rugby balls are there?
There are a few different types of rugby ball available. While their colour and visual design are entirely aesthetic, they vary in terms of material design based on how the ball is going to be used. The three most common types you’ll find will be:
- Match ball
- Training ball
- Recreation ball
Ironically, any of the balls can be used for reaction, training, or a rugby match (outside of professional games), but specific types do come with advantages. Match balls, for instance, are usually pre-kicked to wear the ball in, and have enhanced grip. Training balls on the other hand typically have less grip which encourages better handling skills.
What is the best rugby ball?
Any rugby ball will do, provided it’s well made, but as you’re going to be training (rather than competing professionally), a training ball will always be your best choice.
You want a ball that can take a battering, manage all weather conditions, and will encourage good performance from you. Through their typically durable design and moderate grip, training balls will do just that.
This also means that when you’re playing more competitive rugby where match balls are used, you will find them far easier to handle with this enhanced grip, and you’ll see yourself dropping them a lot less.
What are the best rugby ball brands?
There are many different brands of rugby ball, but a few, in particular, are good indications of quality. These are:
- Pro Impact
- Web Ellis
Here are my picks for the best rugby balls to buy:
- Mitre Sabre Rugby training ball
- Canterbury Thrillseeker rugby training ball
- Gilbert GTR 4000 training ball
If you drill your ball skills enough, you will have a significant advantage over other players. Although rugby can seem like a sport where physical size beats everything else, you’ll quickly learn, like a young Dan Carter did, that understanding the game and matching it with excellent ball skills trump size every time.