How much energy do we expend in rugby and which area takes the greatest toll?

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How much energy do we expend in rugby and which area takes the greatest toll?

Post by kiakahaaotearoa on Tue 17 Dec 2013, 7:17 pm

With the modern game and the professional era, fitness is an area of the game that has taken on increasing importance. Teams have strength and conditioning coaches and work is done to get players to sustain their physical performance over 80 minutes.

Imagine you are a coach and you are trying to quantify what areas of the game require the most input and take the biggest toll on players, what would you rank as the most taxing areas? It's an extremely complex question because much depends on the player. Let's take a prop, for example. They take the brunt of a scrum and get the blame when things go wrong. How much energy does a scrum ask of a prop? Does it depend on whose feed with the new scrum interpretations as the prop has to take more of the brunt while the hooker is hooking the ball on the feed. How much more energy are they expending than a lock or a backrow player? In a lineout, normally the prop is lifting the lock or backrow player? Who expends more energy? The lifter or the lifted? In a set piece rolling maul, is there someone working harder? Is a cleanout more taxing than protecting the ball? Does it depend on from how far you have run to join the ruck or does it depend on the ruck and whether it is contested? Does a tackle on the fringe take more energy than a tackle where you have to run first in order to make the tackle or does it depend on the type of tackle you have to make (against an assisted drive or broken play)? Does a turnover take more energy than a tackle?

You get the idea. It's a very complex exercise. I can look at stats and say this player made 15 tackles, missed two, hit 30 rucks and cleaned out 12 times. He made 50 metres running and kicked three times. All very well and good but am I able to say from those stats this player expended this much energy and be able to tell whether that player sustained his level of performance over the 80 minutes? Much more difficult to extract that kind of information without watching the game and even then you only get a sense.

Quite a few times this year I heard the comment the All Blacks wore the opposition down and their fitness paid off in the last quarter. It's true NZ won a few games like against England, SA, Argentina and Ireland in the last quarter either by pulling away in that period or by scoring more points in that period and taking the lead. Often I heard this attributed to the fitness of the NZ side. You look at the body compositions of the NZ side and compare it to some test sides and it's tempting to make the comparison that NZ are in better shape. But when you consider McCaw and Conrad Smith are the fittest players in the NZ side usually dominating the yo-yo tests, you start to wonder whether body composition has all that much to do with it. Let's take the Ireland game. I would love to be able to see power meters on players and assess their power output. I would imagine that Ireland charging and flooding the breakdown area saw a big power output that did achieve an effective gain in terms of putting points on the scoreboard. They kept making the tackles in the second half but in terms of offence they weren't able to make the yards they saw in the first half. Inferior fitness? I doubt it. NZ committed fewer players to the rucks and though this caused holes to appear around the fringes, it did mean the NZ players were saving a lot of energy by not committing themselves to rucks. Ireland on the other hand were pouring in and achieving dominance at the breakdown but what was the accumulative effect in terms of energy spent in order to gain that dominance? Similarly, Argentina threw us around in several scrums in their matches but at the end of the match we were able to push them back, albeit to a lesser extent. My point is, in order to gain dominance how do you qualify that in terms of how much you concede in performance at the end of the match?

As in life in general, it's important to have balance in what you're doing. The thinking is for some that having possession is the best way to ensure your team wins. If the opposition don't have the ball, you have to make more tackles and that tires you out. Out of the RC teams, NZ kicked the most ball. There has to be some thinking behind that. If you retain the ball and keep possession, how much energy do you expend in retaining or protecting that ball. If the opposition commits as few players to the rucks as possible, they are only hurting in terms of the tackles they make. How much energy does it take to come in and clean out a ruck or protect the ball and how many more players does that take? If you keep the ball in open play, you are allowed to shift the point of attack and move around your opposition by moving their defence from side to side. But how much do you expend in doing so and is there a palpable net gain, if any, in terms of energy saved by keeping the ball?

So where do you think are the areas that take the greatest toll? The scrum, the tackle, the cleanout, defending, attacking, retaining possession or trying to gain possession? How much of an influence does this have on tactics and are players prepared for the specific vigours of what their respective positions require of them or do coaches take a more global view?


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Re: How much energy do we expend in rugby and which area takes the greatest toll?

Post by butterfingers on Tue 17 Dec 2013, 7:38 pm

This can not be answered with any relative answer, mainly because there is no typical game, there is no typical player and there is no typical result.

Each game has many variants, scrum time, scrum number, lineout number, posession stats, territory stats, ball in play time etc...

Then there are the hugely differing demands on each player and position, for example the average rugby union player sprints at max pace around the 9m per sprint mark, but this is massively dependant on a hundred things...

Position,
Decision making,
Tactics,
Territory,
Posession,
Scoreline,
Player tendancies

etc etc etc.

So a full back for example would sprint for 18m per sprint on average, dependant on where he is on the field, how his team are playing, what time of the game it is, what the scoreline is, what his coach has told him to do, what his strengths are etc...

Lets take Foden and Halfpenny as examples...

While playing for England Foden runs the ball back far more than Halfpenny would for Wales. But this statement is false, even though both players are known to do this, it can only depend on the list above!

And thats without considering positional differences, every player will train differently to their position, so whats immesnely easy for 1 player would be near impossible for another.

So ultimately energy expenditure is relative, props will expend far more energy running ball in hand than wingers will due to efficiency, whereas a winger would will expend far more energy in their thought process and scanning than a prop will who will be all action and reaction during open play.

Sorry for the essay.

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Re: How much energy do we expend in rugby and which area takes the greatest toll?

Post by kiakahaaotearoa on Tue 17 Dec 2013, 7:41 pm

Sorry for the essay? Not at all.  thumbsup 

So as a coach butterfingers, how do you assess what your players are capable of and which areas do you tell them to avoid and which areas in which to focus their energy?

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Re: How much energy do we expend in rugby and which area takes the greatest toll?

Post by Scratch on Tue 17 Dec 2013, 7:52 pm

http://www.rfu.com/takingpart/fitness/rugbydemands/~/media/files/2009/fitness/090728%20bc%20an_evaluation_of_the_physiological_demands.ashx

take a look at this…

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Re: How much energy do we expend in rugby and which area takes the greatest toll?

Post by butterfingers on Tue 17 Dec 2013, 8:01 pm

kiakahaaotearoa wrote:Sorry for the essay? Not at all.  thumbsup 

So as a coach butterfingers, how do you assess what your players are capable of and which areas do you tell them to avoid and which areas in which to focus their energy?

It all depends who the team is, if it's a 2nds team that will have a real gap between abilities i'll be focussed on strength trends through units. If you have for example a young inexperienced tight 5 you want the ball to stay in play as much as possible, utilise your stronger areas such as back row, kick long and infield and focus on a strong defencive line. But that all depends on other areas obviously. The focus in this team would be basics, not skill basics but conditioning basics, Tabatha training, Fartlek, and speed/strength endurance, not to mention improving generic power output.

I tend to focus more on basics of the tactical game to make initial improvements, if you can improve tactical knowledge and technical ability then energy expenditure is minimalised anyway, then the conditioning improvements can be adjusted.

For me efficiency is the name of the game, if your whole back row flies into the first 12 rucks then no matter how conditioned they are they will fatigue quicker than lesser players who know when and when not to make the ground. Especially when in defence, most players try to fight their way through rucks they cannot possibly win at lower levels, and 20 minutes later are the same guys stood directly behind the rucks leaning on it doing nothing but hiding.

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Re: How much energy do we expend in rugby and which area takes the greatest toll?

Post by butterfingers on Tue 17 Dec 2013, 8:17 pm

Scratch wrote:http://www.rfu.com/takingpart/fitness/rugbydemands/~/media/files/2009/fitness/090728%20bc%20an_evaluation_of_the_physiological_demands.ashx

take a look at this…

Before I get a little addicted to the study and then attempt to rip it apart 1 thing has jumped out at me from the first graph of HR%...

The forward (BR) heart rate starts the game at basically RHR, which is amazing as every new coach is told the reason for the 'warm up' is to raise HR, increase blood flow etc etc... This could be attributed to numerous things, the forwards splitting to run lineouts, and possibly just cooling down, the back rower not being involved in the lineout much, the time between split and KO, the lack of nerves or rile up due to being off season, or the issue I'd like to focus on, the BR being the best conditioned player on the park, and recovering quicker than anyone else.

This final reason is the basis of the yoyo these days as opposed to the bleep test. Rugby doesn't demand and incrimental rise of tempo in one continuous burst of effort, it requires numerous bursts of high tempo activity, followed by lower tempo and rest.

This is the reason Mccaw has been so dominant in my view, he was one of the first to realise that working at 8/10 continuously for 40 minutes was nowehre near effective as 10/10 for 30 minutes, including 10 minutes of rest when the time calls for it. He worked on conditioning that would allow him for 40 seconds of explosive activity followed by 10 seconds of complete rest.

Mccaw however isn't the yoyo king these days, 17 yr old kids are regularly hitting level 19 and above, and within the next 12 months not only will the yoyo be beaten, it will be adjusted to include a burpy style element before the rest period (I already include a push up in my yoyo tests hehehe)

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Re: How much energy do we expend in rugby and which area takes the greatest toll?

Post by kiakahaaotearoa on Tue 17 Dec 2013, 8:19 pm

Cheers Scratch and butterfingers.

GPS is good for measuring positioning and distance covered and heart rate monitors can be a good guide for energy output. In ironman triathlon, there is a definite move away from heart rate monitors to power metres on the bike. Heart rate monitors were all the rage in the 90s with Mark Allen a keen exponent but nowadays power is king as heart rate monitors can be unreliable. They can go haywire and then come back to their normal reading whereas your watt output is usually constant.

Having a heart rate monitor can assess if a player is lifting in intensity and tracking the player on GPS is useful. But it's still difficult to measure how much of a drain key functions have on a player.

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Re: How much energy do we expend in rugby and which area takes the greatest toll?

Post by butterfingers on Tue 17 Dec 2013, 8:29 pm

kiakahaaotearoa wrote:Cheers Scratch and butterfingers.

GPS is good for measuring positioning and distance covered and heart rate monitors can be a good guide for energy output. In ironman triathlon, there is a definite move away from heart rate monitors to power metres on the bike. Heart rate monitors were all the rage in the 90s with Mark Allen a keen exponent but nowadays power is king as heart rate monitors can be unreliable. They can go haywire and then come back to their normal reading whereas your watt output is usually constant.

Having a heart rate monitor can assess if a player is lifting in intensity and tracking the player on GPS is useful. But it's still difficult to measure how much of a drain key functions have on a player.

And thats the key, cycling especially heart rate is far less conducive, as power output can be measured accurately during training and competition. Basically a cyclist will want to maximise power output while minimizing effort!

Issues in rugby are that until we can install technology directly into the muscle we won't be able to get anywahere near as accurate a reading. Biomechanics, trajectory and video analysis are the best weapons we have to determine power, but even then unless combined with HR you never know what the effort level is.

For example, jump height is directly related to sprint speed (basically power output in the box test is measured) but technique determines acceleration massively, along with reaction times etc...

It'll be no surprise to me when rugby finally resorts to an NFL style test/draft system where scouts actually quantify what a players physiological ability and potential is, instead of experienced heads standing on the side of a pitch mumbling 'I like him' to one another with very little evidence of why!

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Re: How much energy do we expend in rugby and which area takes the greatest toll?

Post by Scratch on Tue 17 Dec 2013, 8:36 pm

Yeah i agree butterfingers, up to a point.
The Moneyball approach has been proven to work, when you break the game down to constituent parts analysis of individual player performance afford us a much better picture of what a player contributes.
Selecting 6s on tackle percentage and 10s on pass completion makes sense
But i do think NFL player profiles are easier to analyze than in rugby where interaction between players is more varied and the game is more fluid.

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Re: How much energy do we expend in rugby and which area takes the greatest toll?

Post by butterfingers on Tue 17 Dec 2013, 8:45 pm

Scratch wrote:Yeah i agree butterfingers, up to a point.
The Moneyball approach has been proven to work, when you break the game down to constituent parts analysis of individual player performance afford us a much better picture of what a player contributes.
Selecting 6s on tackle percentage and 10s on pass completion makes sense
But i do think NFL player profiles are easier to analyze than in rugby where interaction between players is more varied and the game is more fluid.

Sorry mate I wasn't clear, I was talking NFL testing/draft with regards to juniors only, maybe at U18 and below. Certain abilities and capacities will lend themselves to certain positions far better than others (and lets be honest thats how every kid gets into the position he does, a coach looks at him and says your a ...) The trend that back rowers end up playing front row after making a splash in the junior circuit isn't a coincidence, and most players who play elite rugby in the backline are played at 10 at their lower levels.

When it comes to pro rugby, the little technicalities, vision and instinct are far more important in rugby than NFL I agree whole heartedly.

I think though, that I could estimate pretty accurately what a childs abilities, and capacities could be before they reach PHV during puberty, which could be as young as 12/13, or as old as 16/17, the trick is to recognise a child at 15 being smaller and slower than his 14 yr old positional competition isn't necaserily going to be the weaker player, and when 'scouts' take more notice of the quicker child who makes more impact in the game they aren't seeing the big picture!

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Re: How much energy do we expend in rugby and which area takes the greatest toll?

Post by Scratch on Tue 17 Dec 2013, 8:53 pm

butterfingers wrote:
Scratch wrote:Yeah i agree butterfingers, up to a point.
The Moneyball approach has been proven to work, when you break the game down to constituent parts analysis of individual player performance afford us a much better picture of what a player contributes.
Selecting 6s on tackle percentage and 10s on pass completion makes sense
But i do think NFL player profiles are easier to analyze than in rugby where interaction between players is more varied and the game is more fluid.

Sorry mate I wasn't clear, I was talking NFL testing/draft with regards to juniors only, maybe at U18 and below. Certain abilities and capacities will lend themselves to certain positions far better than others (and lets be honest thats how every kid gets into the position he does, a coach looks at him and says your a ...) The trend that back rowers end up playing front row after making a splash in the junior circuit isn't a coincidence, and most players who play elite rugby in the backline are played at 10 at their lower levels.

When it comes to pro rugby, the little technicalities, vision and instinct are far more important in rugby than NFL I agree whole heartedly.

I think though, that I could estimate pretty accurately what a childs abilities, and capacities could be before they reach PHV during puberty, which could be as young as 12/13, or as old as 16/17, the trick is to recognise a child at 15 being smaller and slower than his 14 yr old positional competition isn't necaserily going to be the weaker player, and when 'scouts' take more notice of the quicker child who makes more impact in the game they aren't seeing the big picture!

Seems to me a combination of science and scouting makes most sense. In my day you were put in position largely based on height and weight so i became a very fast prop!
Vision is intangible and talent seems so unsatisfactory a way of explaining performance but there has to be something in it.
It would be an interesting experiment to pit a team of physically optimized players against an established team and see what happened.

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Re: How much energy do we expend in rugby and which area takes the greatest toll?

Post by Poorfour on Tue 17 Dec 2013, 8:59 pm

Interesting analysis, Butterfingers. Without being anywhere near as scientific about it (I only coach U9s, so it would be a tad excessive), my instinct was that the core of the ABs success is their efficiency. They play with intensity when they have to, but don't overcommit. It's good to have that confirmed. McCaw's conditioning, the rucking strategy and the kicking game are all part of that: play the game so that you expend effort where it counts and not where it can be avoided.

However, that can't be the whole of the story. The ABs are one of those teams who can defend for long periods without apparently tiring, and defending should on average expend more effort than attacking for all sorts of reasons.

I don't know what the ABs do, but it's telling that many great defensive teams have training programmes based on repeated intensity. Lawrence Dallaglio has said that the England team in 2003 used to play 11 against 15 for extended periods in training. Harlequins today play non-stop rugby (i.e. no restarts of any kind - the ball is just handed over for a try or infringement and play continues).

I think there's also a question of training for the season or campaign and not just the game. Warren Gatland aims for his Welsh players to be the best conditioned on the planet and arguably in the context of a single game they are.

But I look at how many Welsh players tend to be injured at any point in time, even when most of them were still playing in the Rabo, and I wonder if he's optimised for 80 minutes and not for a season. I contrast that with the way Quins players are conditioned; Chris Robshaw has a huge workrate but has played around 25 games in each of the last 3 seasons and, IIRC, missed 4 regular season games in total in that time (for a sprained ankle and the shiner he got against the All Blacks).

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