Position-specific demands

The different positions in rugby require a considerably different skill set. Consequently, the physical demands of each position will be different. GPS and time-motion analysis studies are great sources of information to examine the different demands placed on players in different positions. As stated previously there are many different variables we can use to compare positional demands.

The table below shows the average time in minutes spent in the different locomotion categories for the different positions in rugby (Roberts et al 2008). From this data, we can clearly identify positional differences. Outside backs had the most time in the high-intensity running category, almost 2.5 times as much as tight forwards, whereas tight and loose forwards had 7 times as much time as the backs in the static exertion category. These highlight considerably different demands and so this should be considered when designing training. We can consider how this information links with the energy systems discussed earlier.

The low-intensity activity section would be mainly involving the tertiary energy system whilst the high intensity activity would mainly be a mix of the primary and secondary energy systems.

  Low intensity activity High intensity activity
Group Stand still Walk Jog Medium intensity running / cruising High intensity run Sprint Static exertion (Scrum for example)
Tight forwards 27:42 26:37 13:19 3:14 0:49 0:17 8:03
Loose forwards 23:34 29:58 14:01 3:17 0:58 0:26 7:47
Inside backs 25:14 34:01 13:57 3:39 1:18 0:17 1:33
Outside backs 21:37 39:11 13:17 2:53 1:21 0:36 1:05

As mentioned earlier, while the locomotion patterns are the most common studied in rugby, there are many variables that can show positional demand differences. Distance covered within a game is a good indication of the demand placed on the player. The table below shows the average distance in meters covered during rugby games and it highlights the fact that backs on average travel further during the game. Although we also must consider that forwards may not travel very far during a period but could be tackling and rucking which are high-intensity efforts. Alternatively, the backs could be jogging around covering more distance but at a much lower intensity. This why it is important to look at locomotion analysis and distance covered together as it provides a much clearer picture of how much of that distance covered was at high or low intensity. It is also important to remember that a lot of the research in this area focuses on elite level rugby players. This data may not be what we would expect from community level players so the information from the research should be used as a guide rather than an exact blueprint.

Average Distance Covered in Games (metres)
Roberts et al (20018): Forwards - 5581m, Backs 6127m
Suarez-Arrones et al (2012): Forwards - 5853m, Backs 6471m
Cahill et al (2012): Forwards - 5850m, Backs - 6545m
Swaby et al (2016): Forwards - 4872m, Backs - 6545m

Apart from locomotion and distances covered in the game, physical contact is another variable that places large physical demands on players. Tackling, mauling, scrummaging and rucking are all high-intensity efforts and need to be included when considering game demands. Forwards have been shown to make up to three times as many heavy impacts in a game compared to backs.

In the table below the average frequency of these physical contact activities during a game is highlighted (Deutsch et al, 2006). The table confirms the greater frequency of intense physical contact completed by forwards compared to backs during match play (Deutsch et al, 2006). The overall energy demand for such activities places a high premium on the primary and secondary energy systems.

Group Rucking / Mauling Scrummaging Tackling
Front row 96 49 19
Back row 68 47 29
Inside backs 21 N/A 28
Outside backs 12 N/A 16.5