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The preliminary findings of a pioneering study using Global Positioning System (GPS) technology to investigate the demands on players in elite rugby have been unveiled.
The findings will help coaches, sport scientists and players gain an understanding of what elite rugby union players, in different playing positions, do within a competitive season.
Researchers from the University of Chester collected 304 sets of data from 54 Aviva Premiership Rugby matches involving eight top flight clubs in the season to March 27.
Bath Rugby, Exeter Chiefs, Harlequins, Leicester Tigers, London Irish, London Wasps, Northampton Saints and Sale Sharks players have worn GPS units to provide a range of information for a PhD study entitled ‘The Demands of Training and Playing in Elite Rugby Union’ commissioned by the Rugby Football Union on the recommendation of the Professional Game Board and part-sponsored by the English Institute of Sport.
The first results from the three-year study were highlighted by Dr Paul Worsfold, Senior Lecturer in Sports and Exercise Sciences, and PhD student Nicola Cahill at the Annual Professional Rugby Conference at Twickenham Stadium on April 14. They show significant differences between six positional groups* in terms of time on pitch, total distance covered, distance covered at low speed run and high speed run, maximum speed and average speed.
• Average time on pitch ranges from 75.63mins for front row to 91.63 for inside backs
• Average distance covered ranges from 4.45km (front row) to 6.84km (scrum half)
• Average distance at Low Speed Run1 ranges from 3.15km (front row) to 4.53km (scrum half)
• Average distance at High Speed Run2 ranges from 0.15km (front row) to 0.61km (outside backs)
• Maximum speed for the positional groups varies from an average of 23.7kmh (front row) to 30.7kmh (outside backs).
The top individual speed recorded in the 54 matches was 36.7kmh (22.8mph) and the greatest distance covered in one match was 8.2km (5 miles).
Dr Worsfold said: "In the past five years, GPS technology has had a significant impact on performance analysis in elite sport. We can now accurately evaluate the training loads and activity profiles of players in competitive situations on the field.
“The aims of the study are to focus on the use of GPS in training and game performance to establish positional demands, to identify potential injury risk, and to monitor relationships between training, competition and fatigue.
"We will have collected over 450 sets of GPS match data from players by the end of the season. The results of the study will enable individual players to gain information on the physical demands of their specific positions during a match situation, and allow them to compare their own performances with the averages across Aviva Premiership Rugby.
"The findings will help coaches, sport scientists and players gain an understanding of what elite rugby union players, in different playing positions, do within a competitive season. This will enable specific training and monitoring programs to be developed for each position to optimise performance and player safety."
Accelerometers in the 5Hz GPS units produce data relating to impacts and body loads on players which will be investigated in the next stage of the study.
Roy Headey, the RFU’s Head of Sports Science, said: "Coaches, medical and conditioning staff rely on analysts and sports scientists being able to simplify and combine a variety of sources of data to inform their decision making.
"A critical piece of information relates to the external loads – visible but virtually impossible to estimate – that players experience during games, These include distances run at various speeds, muscular effort in accelerating, decelerating, changing direction and G-forces in collisions, and GPS is currently the best available vehicle for capturing such data."
Corin Palmer, Premiership Rugby's Head of Academies and Development, said: "This study, in conjunction with the Injury Audit, is another example of the clubs and the Union working together to create the best possible playing and training environment for elite players in England.
"It will allow coaches and medical staff to design training programmes to optimise player fitness, rehabilitation and general welfare, but it will also play an important part in the creation of individual player development plans for academy athletes as part of the clubs’ on-going desire to nurture and invest in young English talent."
*Six positional groups are: Front row, second row, back row, scrum half, inside backs and outside backs. 1 Low Speed Run < 12kmh 2 High Speed Run > 18kmh