Movement Demands of Elite Under-20s and Senior International Rugby Union Players

Daniel J Cunningham, David A Shearer, Scott Drawer, Ben Pollard, Robin Eager, Neil Taylor, Christian J Cook, Liam P Kilduff
PloS One 2016, 11 (11): e0164990
This study compared the movement demands of elite international Under-20 age grade (U20s) and senior international rugby union players during competitive tournament match play. Forty elite professional players from an U20 and 27 elite professional senior players from international performance squads were monitored using 10Hz global positioning systems (GPS) during 15 (U20s) and 8 (senior) international tournament matches during the 2014 and 2015 seasons. Data on distances, velocities, accelerations, decelerations, high metabolic load (HML) distance and efforts, and number of sprints were derived. Data files from players who played over 60 min (n = 258) were separated firstly into Forwards and Backs, and more specifically into six positional groups; FR-Front Row (prop & hooker), SR-Second Row, BR-Back Row (Flankers & No.8), HB-Half Backs (scrum half & outside half), MF-Midfield (centres), B3 -Back Three (wings & full back) for match analysis. Linear mixed models revealed significant differences between U20 and senior teams in both the forwards and backs. In the forwards the seniors covered greater HML distance (736.4 ± 280.3 vs 701.3 ± 198.7m, p = 0.01) and severe decelerations (2.38 ± 2.2 vs 2.28 ± 1.65, p = 0.05) compared to the U20s, but performed less relative HSR (3.1 ± 1.6 vs 3.2 ± 1.5, p < 0.01), moderate (19.4 ± 10.5 vs 23.6 ± 10.5, p = 0.01) and high accelerations (2.2 ± 1.9 vs 4.3 ± 2.7, p < 0.01) and sprint•min-1 (0.11 ± 0.06 vs 0.11 ± 0.05, p < 0.01). Senior backs covered a greater relative distance (73.3 ± 8.1 vs 69.1 ± 7.6 m•min-1, p < 0.01), greater High Metabolic Load (HML) distance (1138.0 ± 233.5 vs 1060.4 ± 218.1m, p < 0.01), HML efforts (112.7 ± 22.2 vs 98.8 ± 21.7, p < 0.01) and heavy decelerations (9.9 ± 4.3 vs 9.5 ± 4.4, p = 0.04) than the U20s backs. However, the U20s backs performed more relative HSR (7.3 ± 2.1 vs 7.2 ± 2.1, p <0.01) and sprint•min-1 (0.26 ± 0.07 vs 0.25 ± 0.07, p < 0.01). Further investigation highlighted differences between the 6 positional groups of the teams. The positional groups that differed the most on the variables measured were the FR and MF groups, with the U20s FR having higher outputs on HSR, moderate & high accelerations, moderate, high & severe decelerations, HML distance, HML efforts, and sprints•min-1. For the MF group the senior players produced greater values for relative distance covered, HSR, moderate decelerations, HML distance and sprint•min-1. The BR position group was most similar with the only differences seen on heavy accelerations (U20s higher) and moderate decelerations (seniors higher). Findings demonstrate that U20s internationals appear to be an adequate 'stepping stone' for preparing players for movement characteristics found senior International rugby, however, the current study highlight for the first time that certain positional groups may require more time to be able to match the movement demands required at a higher playing level than others. Conditioning staff must also bear in mind that the U20s players whilst maintaining or improving match movement capabilities may require to gain substantial mass in some positions to match their senior counterparts.

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