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Rugby - Planning the Training

The rugby season is already underway even before the last over has been bowled in the previous cricket match. It may mean you are preparing for the All Black tour and the Home Internationals. More likely, you are getting out on a Saturday and playing club matches or representing your school or college.

Demands of the sport

Most people imagine the typical rugby player as a tall, burly individual with an endless thirst for lager and a prodigious appetite for tandoori. In reality, the successful rugby player these days has to be conditioned to perform well in his position. Backs, for instance, will be a different size and shape from forwards. The fit player must have sufficient endurance to last the 80-minute match. He must have the speed to reach the correct position first or outrun opposing backs. Power and strength are essential during the scrummage, rucks and mauls. Forwards will need a jumping ability for the lineout, while agility is vital to outmanoeuvre and outwit opponents. All this, of course, needs to be added to a base of skills essential in any ball game, as well as tactical awareness and planned team strategy. At all levels, the demands on the rugby player are high, requiring a combination of thorough physical conditioning and well-drilled skills.

Phases of training

As with field sports, the rugby player needs to maintain a stable fitness level for several months, from September to April. At the top level, the summer tours can add to the increasing demands made upon players throughout the year. Those at this level will aim to peak physically when it is most vital for them to play well. Every four years, this will mean the World Cup, but in the meantime, Home Internationals are the following significant targets.

The extra games added to first-class league rugby will not help the plight of the top players. It is unrealistic to play hard, intense rugby every week for the club and then be expected to perform internationally to a high standard. Players inevitably miss some club matches to prepare for the big ones.

For club players, much conditioning work must be done in the summer months, leaving room for some midweek training to add to this fitness base. The summer will require conditioning running to boost endurance, weight training to improve strength and circuit work to increase muscular endurance.

As the season approaches, the emphasis should shift towards power and speed. The work in training should become more specific to the match situation, where sessions can be combined to include attention to both skills/technique and fitness.

The training week

The week's structure will depend very much on the standard of rugby played. Keen players in a club side may have structured training 2-3 times a week, with matches on Saturday, aside from training on their own. Others may turn out on Saturday, throwing in the week's odd run and weights session. However, it is essential to remember that this can be a dangerous game to play without adequate conditioning.

It makes better sense for club sessions to be more skills-based or incorporate drills that work on technique. They can also deal with specific fitness areas, such as anaerobic endurance. One method uses tackle bags where four are placed 10 metres apart in a square formation. Players can then run and tackle, get up, and tackle several times in various directions. The drill can be timed, and short recoveries are given before the next intensive burst.

Another drill can involve sprinting a set distance, say 30 metres, in pairs and then performing a wrestling activity before running again. After a short recovery, this drill can be repeated several times to make a hard session that develops speed, anaerobic endurance and specific strength.

Another way to improve running speed and specific strength is tethered running. This means sprinting while towing a tractor tyre or with a harness held by a partner.

Work in the weights room is essential but should include pulling aand pushing exercises. Resistance training should attend to the upper and lower body. Do not give in to the temptation to concentrate on muscle bulk alone. It is specific strength and speed that are required.

It is also helpful for forwards to do a small amount of isometric work and the popular dynamic work.

Approach aerobic conditioning with caution. Aerobic endurance is vital to help players recover from frequent high-intensity bursts. The best way to improve this is through steady-state running and interval running. The problem is that players with big frames can easily be injured if the running is not built up gradually and careful attention is paid to the running surface and the shoes used.

An excellent way to start is to combine running and walking around the pitch. Begin by jogging the width and walking the lengths. Build up the number of laps achieved, then change to jogging the distances and progress through to continuous jogging. Once you have established a solid base, you can alternate between jogging and faster running.

Article Reference

The information on this page is adapted from Dunbar (1993)[1] with the kind permission of Electric Word plc.


  1. DUNBAR, J. (1993) Forget the old image of the boozy, big bellied mauler. Peak Performance, 37, p. 5-6

Page Reference

If you quote information from this page in your work, then the reference for this page is:

  • MACKENZIE, B. (2003) Rugby - Planning the Training [WWW] Available from: [Accessed