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Talent Identification for Rugby Union Athletes: Testing for

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David Williams

on 6 November 2013

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Transcript of Talent Identification for Rugby Union Athletes: Testing for

Talent Identification for Rugby Union: Testing for Anthropometric, Physiological and Performance Characteristics
What is Talent Identification?
Talent identification involves the process of recognising athletes, whether current participants or not, who possess the potential to excel in a particular sport
Why is it important?
Why is talent identification important to rugby union?
With the introduction of professionalism in 1996, rugby union has become big business
competition for very limited professional contracts has driven the level of athleticism to new heights and methods of identifying the cream of the crop have become vital to team success and prudent allocation of resources.
What to look for in a rugby union player
In order to determine what to look for in talented athletes, one must perform a needs analysis of match play...
How do you identify who has talent?
Talent is typically identified by testing specific characteristics including:
anthropometric
physiological
psychological
technical abilities
Why are these qualities important?
Certain characteristics are required in order to cope with the on-field demands of specific tasks...

Each of these characteristic have been shown to discriminate between playing levels...

Therefore, it is suggested that the assessment of these qualities allows coaches and selectors to identify athletes who are physically suited to the game
Strength
Elite players have been shown to display superior levels of strength when compared to sub-elite
Speed
Speed and acceleration are crucial qualities in team based evasion sports
Power
While high levels of strength have been demonstrated to be crucial for success in rugby union, it is suggested that the ability to produce high levels of power may be a better determinant of playing ability
Aerobic & Anaerobic Capacity
Agility
What to do with these markers of performance...
Now that we know the anthropometric and physiological markers that discriminate between playing levels, we can design a testing battery intended to identify players with talent...
The central reasoning for talent identification is the suggestion that early detection of athletic potential ensures players most likely to succeed to have access to specialised coaching and training, thus accelerating their development and minimising the pool of junior athletes needed to be managed
Given the contact nature and the physiological demands of rugby union match play, it is well accepted that attributes favoured upon in athletes include a high degree of fat free body mass; high levels of strength, power,speed and agility; as well as a high aerobic and anaerobic capacity
Generally speaking, as the level of competition increases, lean body mass and height increase while body fat percentage decreases
Anthropometry
Strength is required in contact and ball retention scenarios such as tackles, scrums, rucks and mauls
Front row forwards are exposed to forces of up to 1420 ± 320 N during scrums
Motion analysis tells us that sprinting accounts for 25% of all in-game movements...typically in the range of 10-20m
Due to the relatively short distances typically covered whilst sprinting it appears that the acceleration phase of sprinting is an important performance indicator...
Speed
Longer duration sprints whereby athletes reach speeds in excess of 90% maximum velocity are also important as these are achieved 9±4 times per match for outside backs
Elite rugby union backs are capable of achieving similar sprint times over distances of 15m and 35m to that of track sprinters
Speeds of up to 8.4±0.4 ms-1 for forwards and 9.2±0.3 ms-1 have been reported for provincial level players
Backs have been shown to cover 40m in 5.81 seconds
Significant correlation between high levels of power and the ability to break tackles and offensive skills
Cutting movements are typically characterised by a rapid deceleration on one leg followed by a re-acceleration on the contra-lateral leg into the new direction
Significant differences in both aerobic and anaerobic capacity have been noted between elite and sub-elite rugby union players with top level athletes shown to display a greater VO2max and lower levels of fatigue during repeated fatigue tests
Aerobic & Anaerobic Capacity
Frequency of sprints per game range from 8±6 for front row forwards to 13±5 for outside backs, often in an already fatigued state
Information gained through Global Positioning System (GPS) tracking devices has indicated game play work to rest ratios ranging from 1:1.5 to 1:3
High intensity bursts tend to last on average approximately 2.5 seconds for forwards and 5 seconds for backs
Anthropometry
Power
The importance of power is demonstrated by its correlation to offensive skills, hence testing for power is a valuable tool in the identification of playing ability
Agility
Strength
Maximum strength, by definition, is the greatest amount of mass that can be moved in a particular movement for 1 repetition
Therefore strength testing should seek to determine an athlete's 1RM
Speed
Performance in acceleration (10m) and maximum velocity sprints (40m) have been shown to discriminate between elite and sub-elite rugby union athletes
Consequently, all out sprints of 40m with timing gates at the start, 10m and 40m are suggested in order to assess the acceleration and maximum velocity capabilities of each athlete
Sprint tests of this nature have been shown to represent a valid assessment of rugby union players’ speed capacity indicative of match play demands
Aerobic/Anaerobic Capacity
The Rugby Specific Repeated Speed (RSRS) test is currently used by the New Zealand Rugby Union as a means of testing aerobic & anaerobic capacity
The test is composed of a 20m sprint (timed at 10m and 20m); a repeated sprint test consisting of three sets of four 20m sprints interspersed with standardised work periods where players jog with weighted bags on their shoulders and perform down and ups; and finally a Yo-Yo test
Anthropometry
Height
simply measured using a tape measure
ensure tape measure is securely attached to a wall perpendicular to the wall and thee zero mark is at ground level to ensure reliability
Anthropometry
Body Fat Percentage
Reliable comparisons across studies prove difficult due to the use of differing measurement techniques and prediction equations
Therefore suggested that testers choose to assess the sum of seven-site skin-fold using the methods outlined by the International Society for the advancement of Kinanthropometry
While not as precise as reference methods such as dual energy X-ray absorptiometry (DEXA), the seven-site skin-fold measurement has been shown to be a feasible field measure that is both valid and reliable
Agility
The agility field test suggested is based upon that put forward by Green et al specifically designed to mimic the movement patterns and tasks involved in rugby union
involves subjects sprinting 5m in a straight line initially until their path forks out at 45 degrees left and right, resembling a “Y”, for another 5m
flashing lights are located at the each of the two end points and are activated by a trigger gate located 50cm in front of the starting line
Agility
Agility
Each subject performs two types of change of direction tests, a predetermined agility run and a reaction agility run test
For the predetermined run, the tester advises the athlete which direction to cut prior to each trial. Three trials per side should be performed and a mean value should be determined from the 6 trials
For the reactive run, rather than being told which direction to cut at the 5m cone, participants are advised to visually scan for the flashing gate and run towards it. The lights at the gate are triggered by the timing gates positioned at the start which will randomly trigger either the left or right finish gates to flash
Agility
This testing protocol has been demonstrated to be an appropriate measure of playing ability and therefore allow coaches to measure a player’s capability to perform skills and movements crucial to the game of rugby union

Test-retest reliability and intra-class correlation coefficient analysis indicate that this particular testing protocol has an acceptable level of reliability and is therefore appropriate to compare between groups
Since the use of 1RM prediction equations tend to over and/or under predict true maximum, it is suggested athlete's are tested on their true 1RM to improve accuracy
Strength
The bench press and the back squat are the two most commonly used exercises for strength testing
each have been shown to exhibit a high test-retest reliability of 0.99 and 0.95 respectively
For the purposes of this presentation, we will focus on the anthropometric and physiological components of performance

Anthropometry
Body Mass
Anthropometry
Height
Anthropometry
Body Fat %
Agility
Cutting speeds can be used to differentiate the playing level of rugby union athletes and thus provide an indicator playing ability
Due to spatial and temporal uncertainty, players are required to perform not only pre-planned “plays” but also to react to external stimuli to effectively defend or attack with ball in hand
Body Mass
measured using analogue scales
ensure scales are calibrated prior to testing session and routinely throughout session to ensure reliability
all subjects should be clothed in workout attire intended for later tests minus the shoes
A valid field test protocol testing an individual’s agility competence should address the physical and technical characteristics of cutting tasks as well as the cognitive and reactive aspects in both anticipated and unanticipated change of direction tests
The Testing Battery
Aerobic/Anaerobic Capacity
This testing procedure holds a high degree of logical validity based on the distances and work to rest ratios used
Measures of performance for the RSRS repeated sprint test are derived from the average time from all sprints and the percent change in time across all 12 sprints. The fastest time of two trials is used for the speed component while for the Yo-Yo test, performance is indicated by the number of shuttles completed at the conclusion of the test.
Conclusions
The testing battery presented in this current study by no means represents a complete assessment of an individual’s rugby union playing ability; it is merely intended to provide coaches and selectors a method for identifying athletes who are physically suited to the game.
The selection of teams based purely on these criteria does carry inherent flaws with it. For example, this process would ignore important factors of success such as team interaction, ball skills, special and tactical awareness and decision making skills
The countermovement jump has been shown to provide a valid assessment of power as well as a reliable test for comparison between groups
Strength
However, since the game of rugby union is multi-faceted and does not just rely on skill alone, the development of these physical characteristics can be considered crucial to success
Furthermore, the vertical jump specifically has been shown to hold a significant correlation to offensive skills
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The table on the following slide represents a field testing battery intended to test each of these characteristics
The choice of field tests over laboratory tests allows for greater ease when testing large groups and a greater specificity to on field demands
Visual representation of the agility test set-up
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