Friday, September 20th marks the kick-off of the 2019 Rugby World Cup season. Rugby is one of the fastest growing sports in the country over the last decade. Contributing to this are things the 7s version of the game being added to the Olympics and the establishment of Major League Rugby. As of 2016, the USA had more than one million people participating in the sport, and 2,673 registered clubs, 900 of those being college teams. This allows for scholarships to be more readily available for high school athletes.
With more athletes crossing over to rugby from sports like football, wrestling, basketball, and track, it still is missing the weight training emphasis that the big American sports receive. With the fast-growing pace of the sport and lack of qualified strength and conditioning coaches, it leaves a lot of coaches relying on what they did years ago to prepare for the season. Rugby is a 45-60 minute game at the high school level, and 80 minute game at the men/collegiate level where 4-7 kilometers will be covered. This leads to the thinking that miles need to get logged to get ready for the games or that players need to be conditioned all day er’day. Unfortunately, this fallacy will lead to suboptimal results and potentially stunt a player’s athletic development.
While the training demands of rugby may appear to be more on the endurance side of things, demands that win games are being neglected. This article will present key rugby specific components to strength and conditioning for athletes to hone their craft.
Zatsiorsky defines strength as “the ability to overcome or counteract external resistance by muscular effort.” Translation, strength is also about your ability to maintain posture and position in all primal movements through space with external forces acting on you. Your opponents represent the outside factors, and they are doing everything in their power to take your position away from you.
The scrum is a fantastic display of the strength needed from rugby player. Other than short shorts, this is the image that usually comes to mind when someone mentions rugby. A scrum is a unit of eight players working in synchronicity with each other to exert their will on the opposing team. A big part of being successful is each individual player’s ability to maintain their posture and position while the opposing side is doing everything in their power to get them out of it. The saying “you’re only as good as your weakest link” holds true here. If one person gets out of position the rest are going to be affected. There's no better feeling than being able to impose your will by putting the your opponents on their heals.
Another fantastic example of a display of strength on offensive side of a ruck is a great example of where this is going to be tested. There is a form of rucking called stick rucking, where you are holding in an isometric position over the ball doing everything in your power to secure it to be recycled for the next play while the opposition is doing what they can to take away your position to steal possession or slow play. You success or failure here is going to have an influence on what happens next.
Power is about your ability to display your strength dynamically. Simply being strong isn’t good enough to be a complete rugby player.
Tackling is one of the quintessential displays of power in rugby. Your ability to load, explode, and bring your hips through on a tackle are going to determine if you are successful at taking down the ball carrier or if they power through and leave you on the ground. All of this happens in an instant.
On the other side of the coin, as a ball carrier if you are looking to power through the tackle the same needs to happen for you. Make yourself small to load and unleash that power on the would-be tackler and put them on your highlight reel. You don't want to end up the wrong side of a Power Athlete #bethehammer video.
Just as rucking require attributes of strength, it also calls for power. Whether you are on the offensive or defensive side of things you are looking to clear out any bodies that may be in your way. Just as tackling it is going to require you to drop your body position to load the hips and unleash that power on your opponent to secure or steal the ball.
Fred Hatfield said, "in all the world of sports speed is king". Rugby is no exception to this statement. Being more a defensive minded guy, I am going to focus on a type of speed I refer to as closing speed. When working on defense a big part of coaches’ strategies is defensive line speed. As a defensive player, the quicker you can close the space between you and the opposition the better chance you have at being successful. The reason being is that you take away their time and space. The less time they have to read and react the better; eliminating space keeps the opposition from getting up to pace. This style of defense can also lead to tackles behind what’s called the “gain line” and slow the opposition down. Many times, this space you are looking to close is a 10-20 meter distance so working on acceleration and speed is a must to be successful here.
10-20 meters is about the average distance that player will travel at time on a sprint. This falls into more of the acceleration phase of sprinting. This doesn’t mean that there aren’t going to be times when the situation calls for top end speed to be hit. Keeping with defense, a perfect example of this is when there is a line break. Since the majority of the defense is in a flat line this can be very problematic. When this happens, it means that players need to get on a pursuit line to track down the runner, and make a try saving tackle.
Simply looking at the length of a match and the average distance covered doesn’t show the full picture of the demands that are present for a rugby player. Don’t fall into the trap and be your athletes limiting factor.
BLOG: Speed 101 - Leg Action by Carl Case
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Carl Case has been an athlete his whole life, playing both football and rugby in high school. After high school, he directed his focus to rugby where he went on to become a collegiate Midwest All Star. Carl continues to play rugby on a mens team near South Bend, and was part of a National Runner Up team. He found CrossFit and then Power Athlete as a way to fuel his rugby performance. He has been following the Power Athlete methodology since it’s launch in 2009 and attended his first CrossFit Football seminar in August of 2009.
After an introduction to CrossFit in 2007, Carl became a certified coach in 2009 and co-owner of CrossFit South Bend in 2011. In addition to coaching CrossFit and Power Athlete inspired classes at the gym, Carl has been coaching high school rugby since 2009. He uses the CrossFit Football and Power Athlete concepts to help his young athletes identify their goals and provides pointed instruction to help achieve those goals.
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