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Rugby Q&A With Phil Wagner!

Coach Wagner, Assistant Strength and Conditioning Coach at the University of California, Berkeley, answers seven questions about conditioning for a rugby player.
Coach Wagner, Assistant Strength and Conditioning Coach at the University of California, Berkeley, answers seven questions about conditioning for a rugby player.

1. Why the sudden development in rugby fitness training methods?

The nature of the sport has changed during recent years and the importance of fitness is growing.

Consider the following variables:

  • The game is getting faster with more 'ball in play' time
  • Rule changes are encouraging fast open play
  • Professionals have more opportunity to train
  • Modern players need to be multi-skilled
  • Scientific research is improving fitness-training methods

2. Should I focus more on long runs in my training?

Though rugby involves more running compared to sports like football, it is a multi-sprint sport with intervals of work and rest, which require large bursts of energy and the need to recover quickly.

Though each position has specific fitness requirements, the ability to maintain skill at high speeds, during contact and pressure situations, and when fatigued is all-important.

3. So, what fitness elements does the modern rugby player require to reach an optimum condition?

  • Acceleration/Deceleration: Speed off the mark is vital in every position as is the ability to break down under control.

  • Agility: You need to change direction quickly.

  • Stamina: Without an endurance base you are stuffed!

  • Speed: Once you accelerate you need to keep going - fast!

  • Strength: To tackle, avoid being tackled and numerous contact situations.

  • Core Stability: The secret to total rugby fitness.

  • Flexibility: It affects all of the above and helps prevent injury.

  • Optimum Nutrition: Energy stores and a balanced diet is vital.

4. What is the average distance a player covers in a given match?

Average Yardage By Level Of Game:

    Jog Sprint/Stride Total
    College 3800 225 4025
    Region 4700 552 5252
    National 4908 1700 6608

As you can see, the volume of running increases significantly from college to national level. These figures are only guidelines as it is often difficult to determine running speed. Furthermore, a player is often attempting to sprint but appears to be running at 3/4 pace due to fatigue.

5. Is there a difference in the distance covered by position?

On average, forwards run 20 to 30 percent further than backs.

6. What is the average duration of play?

If we look at the amount of time the ball is in play it is often over 30 minutes at international level with approximately 100 cycles of play:

    Duration Number Of Cycles
    0 - 4 sec. 19
    5 - 8 sec. 8
    9 - 14 sec. 19
    15 -19 sec. 11
    20 - 24 sec. 7
    25 - 29 sec. 8
    30 - 40 sec. 10

The 'ball in play' time at international level has increased by 50% during the past 10 years. This has huge implications for fitness training and nutrition illustrating the growing importance of physical preparation for rugby.

As the level of competition reduces, so does the relative duration of playing cycles i.e. the average duration of play at junior club level is 9 seconds.

7. In terms of injury prevention, what are some training protocols you recommend?

I see more knee and shoulder injuries than anything else among rugby players. Squats are a great way not only to strengthen the leg musculature in a functional manner, but also to build up the tendons and ligaments surrounding the knee joint.

Shoulder stabilization exercises that focus on the rotator cuff can help prevent many of the shoulder problems seen in contact sports.

Be sure to also check out:
Overtraining and Recuperation!