The Physical Characteristics of Specific Phases of Play During Rugby Union Match-Play

Read, D. B.; Jones, B.; Williams, S.; Phibbs, P.; Darrall-Jones, J.; Roe, G.; Weakley, J.; Rock, A.; Till, K.

The purpose of this study was to quantify the frequencies and timings of rugby union match-play phases (i.e., attacking, defending, ball in play (BIP), and ball out of play (BOP)), and then compare the physical characteristics of these phases between forwards and backs. Data from 59 male rugby union academy players (259 observations) were analyzed. Each player wore a micro-technology device (Optimeye S5, Catapult), and video footage was analyzed for phase timings and frequencies. Dependent variables were analyzed using a linear mixed-effects model and assessed with magnitude-based inferences and Cohen’s d effect sizes (ES).

The results indicated that attack, defense, BIP, and BOP times were 12.7 ± 3.1, 14.7 ± 2.5, 27.4 ± 2.9, and 47.4 ± 4.1 minutes, respectively. Mean attack, defense, and BIP phases were shorter than BOP phases. The relative distance covered in attacking phases was similar between forwards and backs, while it was greater in forwards during defense and greater in backs during BOP.

In conclusion, the total time spent in attack, defense, and BIP was less than BOP. Relative distance covered differed between forwards and backs during different phases of play, with greater distances covered by forwards during defense and by backs during BOP. These findings suggest that players should be exposed to training intensities from in-play phases, such as attack and defense, rather than whole-match data, and should practice technical skills during these intensities.

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