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.

Objectives: Rugby union is a high-intensity intermittent sport, typically analyzed via set time periods or rolling average methods. This study reports the demands of international rugby union via global positioning system (GPS) metrics expressed as mean ball in play (BiP), maximum BiP (max BiP), and whole match outputs.

Design: Single cohort cross-sectional study involving 22 international players, categorized as forwards and backs.

Methods: 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. Metres per min (m.min^-1), high metabolic load per min (HML), accelerations per min (Acc), high-speed running per min (HSR), and collisions per min (Coll) were expressed relative to BiP periods and over the whole match (>60 min).

Results: 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 were significantly higher for forwards (p < 0.001). In plays lasting 61s 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. Conclusions: This study uses a novel method of accurately assessing the BiP demands of rugby union. It also reports typical and maximal demands of international rugby union that can be used by practitioners and scientists to target training of 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'; conversely, forwards perform a higher number of collisions.

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