The perfect rugby player

The face of rugby has changed. The overweight props of the first World Cup, played in 1987, have been replaced by much leaner, more muscular players. What does it take to be the perfect rugby player?

The modern game of rugby requires more skilful utility players with extremely high levels of all-round fitness, yet also requiring specific fitness for specialist positions, writes Professor Yogo Coopoo, head of Sport Science at the University of Durban Westville and member of the Medical Committee of SARFU.

No more overweight forwards

Long gone are the days of overweight, fat forwards. They must be mobile and agile, but strong. The backs must be stronger to tackle well, must survive the more physical game better and must be able to stay on their feet.

The rules of the game have changed, the players are more professional, and there is a greater risk for overuse injuries and staleness, writes Coopoo.

Rule changes have resulted in a more flowing game, which results in longer periods of play without stoppages.

Changes to the rules have led to:

  • More ball in play during the game – fewer scrums and lineouts.
  • More power play required in rucks and mauls.
  • Play is at a higher work intensity – almost throughout the game.
  • Players' anthropometric profiles have changed because of the changing demands of the game. More imploding forwards and backs are required – players with more muscle than fat.

The level of professionalism has changed and has led to:

  • Most national rugby players are full-time professionals.
  • More time for players to get fit and skilful.
  • However, a fine balance has to be struck between optimal performance and overtraining.

The greater risk for overuse injuries and staleness, may lead to:

  • A greater reliance on the advice and wisdom of the medical team.
  • For game preparation a team approach is required in the modern game – expertise from various professionals is required.

The fitness requirements and match demands

The fitness requirements and match demands for forwards and backs are:

  • All-round muscular endurance and strength for jumping and lifting in line-out, power loose-play, held positions and pushing in scrums rucks and mauls and for tackling/blocking
  • Speed/power to overcome inertia, for short powerful sprints, ability to sustain speed power, jinking movements, fast breakaways and for exploding through a tackle.
  • Anaerobic power for the ability to run and play rugby at the highest intensity for short periods of time.
  • Aerobic power for the ability to run and play the game at the highest intensity for prolonged periods of time.
  • Agility for the ability to suddenly change direction or body position and for good lateral movement.
  • Flexibility for the ability to move the joint freely through full range of motion, during tackles and unusual body positions in loose rucks.
  • Co-ordination: hand-eye co-ordination in anticipation of interceptions, passes and tackles.
  • Balance for maintaining balance after emerging from a tackle, ruck or maul.

(Compiled by Professor Y. Coopoo, Centre for Exercise Science and Sports Medicine , University of the Witwatersrand, updated August 2011)

Read more:
How fast, strong, and fit?
Springbok rugby fitness norms

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