The Ball in Play Demands of International Rugby Union

Pollard, B. T.; Turner, A. N.; Eager, R.; Cunningham, D. J.; Cook, C. J.; Hogben, P.; Kilduff, L. P.

The objective of this study was to report the demands of international rugby union using global positioning system (GPS) metrics expressed as mean ball in play (BiP), maximum BiP (max BiP), and whole match outputs.

This was a single cohort cross-sectional study involving 22 international players categorized as forwards and backs. A total of 88 GPS files from eight international test matches were collected during 2016. An Opta sports code timeline was integrated into the GPS software to split the data into BiP periods. Metrics such as meters per minute (m.min^-1), high metabolic load per minute (HML), accelerations per minute (Acc), high-speed running per minute (HSR), and collisions per minute (Coll) were expressed relative to BiP periods and over the whole match (>60 minutes).

The results indicated that whole match metrics were significantly lower than all BiP metrics (p < 0.001). Mean and max BiP HML (p < 0.01) and HSR (p < 0.05) were significantly higher for backs versus forwards, whereas Coll was significantly higher for forwards (p < 0.001). In plays lasting 61 seconds or greater, max BiP m.min^-1 were higher for backs. Max BiP m.min^-1, HML, HSR, and Coll were all time-dependent (p < 0.05), showing that both movement metrics and collision demands differ as the length of play continues. In conclusion, this study employed a novel method to accurately assess the BiP demands of rugby union. It also reported typical and maximal demands of international rugby union that can be used by practitioners and scientists to target training for worst-case scenarios equivalent to international intensity. Backs covered greater distances at higher speeds and demonstrated higher HML, in general play as well as 'worst-case scenarios', while forwards engaged in a higher number of collisions.

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