Applied physiology and game analysis of rugby union

Grant Duthie, David Pyne, Sue Hooper

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

419 Citations (Scopus)


Increased professionalism in rugby has elicited rapid changes in the fitness profile of elite players. Recent research, focusing on the physiological and anthropometrical characteristics of rugby players, and the demands of competition are reviewed. The paucity of research on contemporary elite rugby players is highlighted, along with the need for standardised testing protocols. Recent data reinforce the pronounced differences in the anthropometric and physical characteristics of the forwards and backs. Forwards are typically heavier, taller, and have a greater proportion of body fat than backs. These characteristics are changing, with forwards developing greater total mass and higher muscularity. The forwards demonstrate superior absolute aerobic and anaerobic power, and muscular strength. Results favour the backs when body mass is taken into account. The scaling of results to body mass can be problematic and future investigations should present results using power function ratios. Recommended tests for elite players include body mass and skinfolds, vertical jump, speed, and the multi-stage shuttle run. Repeat sprint testing is a possible avenue for more specific evaluation of players. During competition, high-intensity efforts are often followed by periods of incomplete recovery. The total work over the duration of a game is lower in the backs compared with the forwards; forwards spend greater time in physical contact with the opposition while the backs spend more time in free running, allowing them to cover greater distances. The intense efforts undertaken by rugby players place considerable stress on anaerobic energy sources, while the aerobic system provides energy during repeated efforts and for recovery. Training should focus on repeated brief high-intensity efforts with short rest intervals to condition players to the demands of the game. Training for the forwards should emphasise the higher work rates of the game, while extended rest periods can be provided to the backs. Players should not only be prepared for the demands of competition, but also the stress of travel and extreme environmental conditions. The greater professionalism of rugby union has increased scientific research in the sport; however, there is scope for significant refinement of investigations on the physiological demands of the game, and sports-specific testing procedures.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)973-91
Number of pages19
JournalSports Medicine
Issue number13
Publication statusPublished - 2003
Externally publishedYes


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