Why Are Pacific Islanders So Good At Rugby?

England’s Manu Tuilagi scores his side’s fifth try during the Guinness Six Nations match at Twickenham Stadium, London.

If you have ever watched or played rugby you will have noticed there are an awful lot of pacific islander players. Not only are there a lot of them but they tend to be naturals at rugby and many go on to play professionally (amazingly 20% of professionals are of Pacific Islander descent) . In this article we will explain the reasons why these islanders have taken over rugby.

Why are Pacific Islanders so good at rugby?

Pacific islanders are so good at rugby because they have the ideal body type for rugby. Rugby is also the national sport in many island nations such as Fiji, Tonga and Samoa which ensures a very high participation rate. Rugby represents a way out of poverty, so many islander athletes are hungry to become professionals.

Pacific Islanders Have The Ideal Physique For Rugby

Pacific Islanders are natural mesomorphs which means they are naturally large people who can gain weight including muscle and fat easily. They have thick frames, wide shoulders, large heads and thick wrists and ankles. Mesomorphs tend to be very strong and explosive. These physical attributes make Pacific Islanders perfectly suited to the rigours of rugby.

Freaky athletic prowess appears to be far more common among Pacific Islanders than other groups of people. It is totally common to line up against Pacific Islander players who are 120kg with ankles thicker than your calves and wrists as wide as your forearms who can dust your winger over 20m. This unusual mix of size and speed which is perfectly suited to rugby is rare in most population groups but is far more among Pacific Islanders. 

If you grew up playing rugby as a kid you would have come across the 13 year old Tongan or Samoan kid who was 90kg and was as quick as the winger on your team. It would often take half your forward pack just to slow him down and then the other half to finally bring him to the ground.

The physical gifts that many Pacific Islanders possess particularly being big, strong, easily able to gain muscle and fast makes them perfect for rugby and is a big reason why many of them go on to have successful professional careers.

Rugby Is Very Popular In The Pacific Islands

Rugby is the national sport of Fiji, Samoa and Tonga. In Samoa there are 24,000 registered rugby players with a population of 196,000 that means over 12% of the population are active players. When you include unregistered and retired players it wouldn’t surprise me if nearly every man in Samoa has played rugby. Like Samoa, Fiji for its size also has an astonishing number of players with 122,000 registered players representing 14% of the population. To give you some perspective Australia has 230,000 registered players representing less than 1% of their population.

These are amazing rates of participation. When you have so many athletes participating in a sport just based on the law of averages you are going to have many outliers who are exceptional talents who possess what it takes to play professionally. 

Even though the population of the Pacific Island nations is small the high participation rate in rugby means that Pacific Island nations actually have a large amount of rugby players. You combine this with the fact that a large percentage of registered rugby players in the Pacific Islands are serious players who are looking to earn professional contracts then it is no wonder that these small nations are able to produce so many fantastic players.

Rugby Is A Path To Financial Prosperity For Pacific Islanders

The economic situation in the Pacific Islands is poor with 20%-30% of Tongans and Samoans living in poverty. The isolation of the islands, lack of industry and natural resources severely limits the development of the island nations.

Rugby represents a very real and tangible way for young islander men to escape poverty and provide a better life for their families. Astonishing in Dan Leo’s documentary ‘Oceans Apart’ about rugby in the Pacific Islands, Leo claims that 20% of the Pacific Islands’ GDP is generated from rugby. With the average Tongan salary at $15,000 average professional rugby players can expect to earn 10 times that amount with top players earning 100 times that per year. There is big money in rugby and there are many young hungry poverty stricken islanders who are willing to give their all chasing a slice of that pie. 

The chance of enriching themselves and their families motivates many Pacific Islanders to dedicate themselves fully to rugby with them training every day from the time they are children in hopes of winning a professional contract. The goal of helping them families is a driving force which propels young Pacific Islanders to train extremely hard and push themselves more than others who come from a wealthier background.

Poverty is a motivating factor for many young athletes around the round to train hard in hopes of becoming professionals. It is common for athletes in many different kinds of sports to come from tough and underprivileged backgrounds. Rugby is no different. The poverty that many Pacific Islanders face may be tough but is a major contributing factor to their rugby success. I bet if the Pacific Islanders were a wealthy country they wouldn’t produce as many great rugby players because the athletes wouldn’t train as hard knowing that if rugby didn’t work out they could always return home to a life of luxury.


Pacific Islanders excel at rugby because they are literally built for the game. Rugby requires a rare combination of size, strength, power, agility and speed, fortunately for Pacific Islanders they have these attributes in spades giving them a massive advantage over some of their less genetically gifted opposition. You combine these genetic gifts with the popularity of rugby in the Pacific Islands and the fact that many young men are looking to escape poverty through playing professional rugby then it is obvious to see why 20% of current rugby professionals are of islander descent.

Recent Posts