The physical and game requirements of rugby union

Duthie, Grant Malcolm (2005). The physical and game requirements of rugby union PhD Thesis, School of Human Movement Studies, The University of Queensland.

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Author Duthie, Grant Malcolm
Thesis Title The physical and game requirements of rugby union
School, Centre or Institute School of Human Movement Studies
Institution The University of Queensland
Publication date 2005-03
Thesis type PhD Thesis
Supervisor Hooper, Sue
Pyne, David
Total pages 267
Collection year 2005
Language eng
Subjects L
321401 Exercise Physiology
750203 Organised sports
Formatted abstract

The introduction of professionalism in Rugby Union has increased scientific investigation in the areas of competition analysis and assessment of physiological qualities specific to the demands of competitive match play. Prior to the onset of the professional era in 1995 there were few well designed studies on high level Rugby players in the literature. The limited scientific investigation of Rugby makes it difficult for researchers and practitioners to apply a more scientific approach to the game. The purpose of this thesis is to examine the physical characteristics of Rugby Union players, the physiological demands of competitive Rugby and the efficacy of repeat sprint training strategies on performance. Five experimental studies were conducted: time-motion analysis of Super 12 Rugby, sprint-velocity profiling of players, assessment of seasonal changes in body composition, determination of the reliability of routine sprint testing, and evaluation of the effectiveness of repeat sprint training. 


Initially, the reliability of video-based time-motion analysis commonly used in assessing the demands of field sports was investigated. Test-retest calculations showed that video analysis was moderately reliable (5 to 10% typical error) in assessing the frequency, total time, and mean duration of activities in competition. This level of reliability was deemed sufficient for investigation of between-subject and between-games variation in Rugby movements. Subsequent analysis of Super 12 Rugby competition showed a highly intermittent game with marked differences in the movement patterns of forwards and backs. In particular, the high intensity efforts were primarily static exertion (i.e. serums, rucks and mauls) for forwards and sprinting for backs. There were frequent short duration(< 4 s) work efforts followed by moderate(< 20 s) rest for forwards, and extended (>100 s) rest for backs. 


The second study extended the analysis of the sprinting requirements of high level Rugby players in competition, to provide a detailed assessment of the distinct qualities of acceleration and maximal velocity (V m.J· Velocity profiles of elite players established in testing showed forwards and backs achieved speeds in excess of 90% V = on 5 ± 4 and 9 ± 4 occasions respectively (􀂎50% of the sprints performed) during competition, and regularly performed sprints from a variety of starting speeds. The higher frequency (+145% more) and total time (+188% more) of sprinting in competition for backs compared to forwards indicates that backs should have two- to three-fold the volume of sprint training compared to forwards. Sprinting efforts should be performed from a variety of starting speeds to mimic the movement patterns of competition. 


The development of lean mass is an important component in the development of elite Rugby Union players and the third study demonstrated the utility of a lean mass index (LMI) for monitoring within- and between-season variations in anthropometric characteristics of Super 12 Rugby Union players. Mixed modelling of log-transformed body mass (M) and skinfolds (S) was used to derive a LMI of the form M/S% for monitoring changes in mass controlled for changes in skinfold thickness. The exponent x was calculated as 0.13 ± 0.03 for forwards and 0.14 ± 0.03 for backs (mean± SD). There was a small (􀂏1.5%) annual decrease in lean mass. In addition, there was a trend for older players (31 y) to have a substantially (􀂐8%) higher estimated lean mass compared to younger players (18 y). The LMJ may be a useful tool in the assessment of elite sporting populations where rapid, simple and valid body composition measures are required. The index also promises to be useful for within- and between-athlete comparisons in other athlete populations. 


Acceleration is an important factor for success in team sport athletes and the fourth study assessed the reliability of three different sprint test protocols (traditional standing start, three point start with thumb switch, and three point start with foot switch). The aim was to refine the testing technique to decrease the associated error {typical error) commonly observed. Despite large differences in the time taken to perform 10 m sprints from different starts there was minimal difference in the typical error (􀃌0.02 s or< 1 %) between the three different starts. The traditional standing start was recommended as the most appropriate method of assessing initial acceleration (1 0 m) in Rugby players. 


Repeat sprint training is a fundamental component in the physical development of Rugby Union players and the final study examined differences in performance changes following two different six-week repeat sprint programs. Body composition, 20m sprint, vertical jump, predicted VO­2max and competition movement patterns were assessed before and after the six weeks of training. The two programs differed in the duration and intensity of the sprints. The shorter, faster repeat sprint program failed to elicit substantial positive changes in body composition with the exception of a small decrease in body fat. Surprisingly, both training programs resulted in similar small impairments (-3%) in velocity over the initial 10m (0 to 10 m time) of the 20m sprint, improvements in predicted VO­2max, and total time and frequency of striding and sprinting during competitive match play. The increases in the total time and frequency of sprints and strides in competition were not directly related to improvements in physical performance (speed, leg power, and endurance performance assessed via structured field tests), and explanations for the improved movement patterns remain unclear. 


The final paper summarises the findings of the above experimental work in the context of a five step framework for the development of elite Rugby Union players. In the first step "the sport" is characterised by assessing time-motion analysis and the physiological characteristics of elite players. Second, "the athlete" is profiled physiologically to establish individual strengths and weaknesses. "The system" for developing each of the required physiological traits is then established and "the plan" integrates the different training systems. Finally, the success of the plan undergoes "evaluation" using standardised field testing and analysing the results to interpret both between- and within- athlete changes in performance. 


In conclusion, this thesis has shown that the training of players should focus on specific preparation for the high intensity intermittent nature of elite Rugby Union. The physical preparation of backs should focus on the development of fitness via repeated high intensity running efforts specific to the demands of competition. The training for the forwards should involve a higher volume of running with the intensity moderated accordingly. Forwards' training should also involve static exertion contact and scrummaging activities that occur regularly during the game. The improvement of qualities specific to Rugby Union requires specialised training modalities such as targeted strength development, sports specific power enhancement, and comprehensive speed and endurance training. In combination with these specialised training methods, general improvements in athleticism can be achieved with simple methods such as repeat sprint training. The training of each quality must be integrated into a coordinated plan to ensure that maximal benefit is achieved from the effort undertaken. 

Keyword Physiological aspects
Physical fitness
Human mechanics

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Created: Fri, 24 Aug 2007, 18:45:40 EST