Rugby is a unique game in which players of all physical shapes and sizes are able to participate across all levels. So there is not a single ‘Perfect Rugby Animal’, but different depending on your position.
This article is an in depth look at professional Rugby athlete characteristics by position – including body proportions and key physical characteristics.
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The natural shape and size of each player will help determine which playing position is more appropriately suited to each individual.
Then it is a matter of training the player into the ideal proportions for the chosen position.
Table 1 below outlines the ideal body proportions for a player in each position.
Table 1: Ideal body proportions
|Positional Group||Height(cm)||Weight(kg)||Skinfolds – Σ7(mm)||Lean Muscle (mm.kg-0.14)|
The Physical Characteristics
As with any sport, the characteristics of the game determine the required physical characteristics of the player.
Rugby is a game characterised by a unique blend of strength, power, speed, agility and endurance, and the perfect Rugby animal needs to posses all 5.
The demands of scrummaging, dominating the breakdown, and tackling are specific skills that require high levels of strength. For each body type there is an optimal level of strength required to be not only successful at the game but to be able to remain injury free. Often people believe that they are attaining strength to utilise in the game; however there is the need to consider the requirements of training at the highest level. For this reason it is important to consider strength levels in relation to your body type and shape rather than your playing position. Below is a table with the recommendations for optimal strength levels relative to body weight.
Table 2: Strength standards a relative measure taken against body weight.
|Lift||1RM or Estimated|
|Back Squat*||1.8-2.0 x BW|
|Bench Press||1.3-1.5 x BW|
|Prone Grip Chin Up||1.3-1.5 x BW|
*Where at the end range of the squat the crease of the hip has passed below the knee.
Speed and Power are obvious qualities that are integral to success in the game of rugby. Speed may be looked at in terms of acceleration and maximum velocity. Acceleration is crucial in moving about the field, changing direction, evading defenders and getting into the right position to make a tackle. Maximum velocity whilst not as crucial for the forwards is definitely a key ingredient in the make-up of a back to streak away for a try or chase down an attacker. In table 3 below you can see ideal acceleration (10m) and maximum velocity (40m) times.
The vertical jump is a simple measure of power and is regularly used to assess athletic ability. Jumping ability becomes important for the line out jumpers and players who are tasked with taking the high ball under pressure. Power generation (jump height) is also critical for the tight forwards in scrummaging and for all players at the tackle-ruck contest. Included in table 3 are the desired vertical jump values for rugby players.
Table 3: Speed and Power
|Positional Group||10 m Time(s)||40 m Time(s)||Max. Velocity (m.s-1)||Vertical Jump Height (cm)|
Whilst it is great to have the right physique, strength, speed and power; rugby is a game played over 80 minutes. GPS game monitoring and game analysis software is telling us that players on average are covering over 6000m in a game as well as, up and down off the ground, absorbing massive impacts during tackles, scrums and in the tackle-ruck contest.
The ability of a player to have a well-developed endurance system is therefore crucial in being able to sustain [up to and beyond] 80 minutes of rugby. Again it is not only the game that needs to be considered. Players may cover anywhere between 10- 30+ km per week in training, depending on the time of year. Table 4 looks optimal levels of endurance abilities in 2 different field tests:
- Yo-Yo intermittent recovery test very similar to the traditional beep test. This is over a 20m return shuttle, difference being on returning to the start you have a 5m by 5m turnaround which you are given 10sec to complete before commencing the next 20m return. The test starts at a much higher speed than the beep test with the small rest allowing players to get to a much greater intensity. An app with the appropriate timing is available.
- 1.6km run The times given as optimal below are based on running 1.6km on a rugby field i.e. run 100m turn and run 100m until you have completed 8 being 1.6km. If you run this on an athletics track your times will be quicker as there is no deceleration or acceleration on turning every 100m.
Table 4: Endurance qualities as measured by a Yo-Yo intermittent recovery test and a 1.6km run
|Positional Group||Distance Covered (m)||Distance Covered (level.shuttle)||1.6 km run time in min|
The Wrap Up
It becomes quite clear that to perform at the highest level of rugby you need to have exceptional physical qualities in Strength, Speed, Power and Endurance. Ultimately, the level you perform at will come down to you physical make up, the standard of physical qualities and the position in which you play.