English hooker Harry Thacker has highlighted a worrying trend in rugby where players feel they need to "smash the gym" from an early age.

The 24-year-old Thacker, who plays for Pat Lam's Bristol Bears side, has fought through numerous coaches telling him he was too small to play in the front row. Formerly signed with Leicester, he told the Mail on Sunday he felt like he was facing a losing battle in his hopes of top-level game time.

"A fair few coaches there told me I was too small. I never really felt they trusted me to do a job," he said.

Thacker refused to take supplements to help increase his size growing up, and believes aspiring young rugby players should wait until they're 18 to begin serious weight training.


He said he frequently gets messages from players in their early teens asking him for tips on how to bulk up.

"I've sat down with a few boys going through the system. I'm a strong believer that, if you're good enough, you should be there. The weight will come. I don't think guys at 14 should be smashing the gym.'

"There's a lot of pressure for youngsters to be bigger, stronger, faster,' he said. 'There's probably more focus on that than their core skills. Passing, tackling, stuff like that.

"There is a lot of pressure and I think it's directed at the wrong things. When you're 18, 19, 20 is when your major growth should occur. Not at 16."

Thacker, who has been a shining light for Bristol this season, stands at 176cm tall and weighs 93kg. In comparison, All Blacks hooker Dane Coles stands at 184cm and weighs 109kg.

Thacker told the Mail on Sunday he got into the gym a lot when he was younger, "trying to hit every muscle group I could to try to put weight on".

"I put on as much weight as I could put on — to the point I wasn't as able to play the game I wanted to play."