Tailor mid season rugby drills to player needs

Get specific and split

Even as part of a "periodization" programme, you have less time mid season to concentrate on fitness training drills. Consequently, the sessions need to maximise the time available. The major criticisms aimed at most training for rugby are the general nature. In other words props are doing the same rugby drills as wingers.

Props and wingers will have some similar activities during a match, but research shows that clusters of positions have very different needs. Therefore, if it is at all possible with the coaching staff available, it is well worth breaking the team up into positional groups to concentrate on their main needs for fitness.

Front five fitness

Running: Unsurprisingly, perhaps, these players do not sprint too much in a game. When they do, it's not much further than from the goal line to the 22m line. Junior players maybe less so. Most of the running activity is jogging, with striding happening once every two minutes.

High intensity work: With rucks, mauls and, of course, scrummaging, the front five certainly earn their keep. They often perform more than twice the amount of high level physical work of any of the outside backs, bar the scrum half (9).

The average time of high intensity work is 5 seconds in a game, but what sets the players apart is the short time they have to recover. Just over half a minute before the next activity. It may be that they have several short bursts and then a slightly longer rest, but we are beginning to build a training drill pattern here.

Back row specifics

Running: The back row players sprint more than the front five, but not as much as we may think. Their role is more about moving quickly to breakdown situations in a controlled fashion, rather than speeding after the ball. Even if they are breaking off the back of the scrum, it is unlikely they will be at full speed.

Their cruising and sprinting distances are even shorter than their other colleagues. Support play is not about running a long way, but many smaller bursts, using, if possible the quickest route to the ball.

High intensity work: The intensity work is not much less than for the front row, but they do tackle more. Studies have put the hooker into the back row category, since they are throwing in at the lineout and do not scrummage as hard as the rest of the front row.

Inside backs specifics

Running: The number of sprints by numbers 10, 12 and 13 are not much more than a back row player! Probably, it is upwards of seven in a game, with an average distance of about 22 metres. They are at cruising speed more often than the forwards and travel further during the game.

High intensity work: Less than half of the forwards. The inside backs probably get involved in a fifth of the rucks compared to a back row player, and about a seventh compared to a front rower. Their rest time is on average a minute and a half.

Wingers and full back specifics

Running: What with chasing back, as well as making runs with the ball, the "back three" sprint more and further, and overall travel further in a game.

High intensity work: Even in the modern professional game, these backs will not be doing much in the way of physical work. In fact probably a third of what the front row will be doing. They get more rest time as well.

Building a training programme

At Better Rugby Coaching we have seen too many "specific" training drills to know that one size does not fit all. Instead it is better to have some themes to build your rugby drills around.

Not everyone has access to sophisticated weight training equipment. Anyway, if you are running a youth team then the benefits of weight training are not conclusive.

Drills for forwards

Interval training 1: Running intense work for 30 seconds followed by a short rest period. Running the length of the pitch and then back to the half way line, before walking back to the try line 10 times is an example.

Interval training 2: High intensity physical work, such as "run, wrestle, run, rest" with the forwards paired off.

  • RUN: Both forwards start at the half way line. They run in opposite directions to the 22m line (for instance) and then back.
  • WRESTLE: For 5 seconds they then either scrum against one another, or wrestle each other to the ground.
  • RUN: They do the same run again.
  • REST: They retrun and rest.

Drills for backs

Interval training 1: The intense running work would be of the same period as the forwards, but should involve sprints and so longer rests. Straight sprints could be mixed with shorter distance sprints and sprints including turns. Some of the drills should include the ball.

Interval training 2: High intensity physical work. While backs would certainly benefit from the forwards "run, wrestle, run, rest" routine, they would be better employed working on other aspects of their fitness. The fact is, whether we like it or not, the backs just don't need to be as fit as the forwards.

Rugby is a multi directional, multi activity, multi sprint sport. A rugby player is required to run, side step, fall over, get up, wrestle, tackle, pass, kick, amongst other things. This is not the preserve of a sprinter or a long distance runner.

Therefore, though both forms of running are important as part of a wider programme of fitness drills, they are not the total fitness effort. Mid season is not the time to put in a couple of mega laps of the pitch or look again at the sprinting technique – save this for pre season.

References: 1. Heart rate, blood lactate and kinematic data of elite colts (under-19) rugby union players during competition, Deutsch M. U., Maw G. J., Jenkins D., Reaburn P. Journal of Sports Sciences, 1 August 1998, vol. 16, no. 6, pp. 561-570(10). 2. Peak performance sports journal.

This article is taken from the Better Rugby Coaching e-newsletter. Click here to sign up and get free rugby drills, tips and skills twice a week. 

Click here for tips on creating made-to-measure rugby drills for your players. 


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