S&C: Rugby is not a contact sport! - February 2019
A lot of people are shocked by the above statement, but I stand by what I say: Rugby is NOT a contact sport! Let me explain:
A contact sport is a sport like soccer, netball or even field-hockey, where players run into each other or fall down from time to time, mostly accidentally. In my opinion, it would be much more accurate to call rugby a collision sport! Rugby is a sport where large, muscular players choose to run into each other time-after-time. It is not a game characterised by accidental contact, but rather by wilful and aggressive collisions.
I recently listened to a podcast interview with legendary conditioning guru, Ashley Jones (Former S&C Coach of Edinburgh, Crusaders and All Blacks to only list a few). He explained a formula they used to measure the intensity of contact during a rugby match, using GPS and G-Force measurements. Each collision was measured in intensity on a scale of 1 – 10, where 10 was the equivalent of an International rugby scrum engagement on the body of a prop. All these collisions were then added together to get to a total collision score during a match. Players regularly reached scores of above 500 in a match. The equivalent of 50 full-on scrum engagements in 80 minutes of rugby!
The question we then need to ask as S&C Coaches is this: how do we prepare players’ bodies to handle this intensity every week? The answer is Power!
Power: What, Why and How?
We find that many players when planning their gym goals, speak about ‘getting stronger’. The goal of any rugby players should rather be to become more powerful. The difference is small but extremely important:
Strength speaks to the effectiveness of the body in moving heavy things.
Power speaks to the effectiveness of the body in moving heavy things, quickly!
The best way to explain this by moving a car. A crane can move the car easily, so it is called strong. A bomb also easily moves a car, and much quicker than a crane, and is therefore described as powerful!
The main difference is the speed of the movement. When we prepare a rugby player for the demands of the game, we need to prepare muscles to contract as quickly as possible to brace for contact, explode in a scrum or lineout jump, shoot out a braced arm for a hand-off, or move off the mark as quickly as possible. We train this in the gym, as well as on the field, by focussing specifically on the speed of movements.
In the gym, the sets, reps and weight used will reduce dramatically, with our focus on perfect form and speed of the bar. We will typically do 3 – 5 sets of 3 – 5 reps, with no more than 60% of the maximum one-rep weight. Rest between sets will increase, to make sure each set is done at maximum intensity and explosion. Typical sessions will include Olympic style weightlifting (only if players are proficient in these lifts), medicine ball work, jumps, hops and some Plyometrics. Teaching the body to quickly activate and relax the muscles around the waist and core will also lead to massive improvements in Explosive power.
By working in this way in the gym, we teach the players’ bodies to activate the necessary muscles in extremely short times, increasing explosive power and preparing the body for any contact on the field.
It is very important to note that training in this way can be extremely taxing to the players, specifically causing high levels of fatigue in the central nervous system. It is therefore advisable to not train intensely in this manner more than once every 72 hours.
Preparing the body to handle the amount of collisions players typically face during a game should help to increase the performance of individuals and decrease time lost through injuries, therefore improving team results.
*Jan van Rooyen is the Conditioning Specialist for Hoërskool Monument Rugby and the Golden Lions u18 Schoolboy teams. In his spare time, he runs StrapFIT Sport Strapping Suppliers, and if there is any time left he goes running.