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Carnegie Applied Rugby Research Centre

Advancing rugby policy, player development and performance

Applying innovative scientific and analytical techniques to overcome the challenges associated with attaining inclusive participation and performance of rugby players.

Advancing rugby policy, player development and performance

The Challenge

To overcome the challenges associated with attaining inclusive participation and performance of rugby players, Leeds Beckett University’s Carnegie Applied Rugby Research (CARR) Centre works in partnership with rugby national governing bodies (Rugby Football League [RFL], Rugby Football Union [RFU]) and local professional clubs (e.g., Leeds Rhinos) to implement and translate multidisciplinary scientific research to advance evidence informed rugby policy, player development and performance.

Our outputs

Youth sport programmes aim to develop healthy young athletes whilst attaining inclusive participation and success across all levels. The CARR centre’s research has identified that there are numerous problems associated with developing ‘healthy young athletes’ and ‘inclusive participation and success across all levels’ within youth rugby. All the research was undertaken in partnership with the national governing body or professional clubs and involved applying scientific methods within the field. The key underpinning research findings are summarised under four key points.

CARR’s research spanning 12 years (i.e., 2005-2017) has evaluated the factors impacting upon talent identification (i.e., being selected by professional teams), talent development (i.e., receiving greater provision to improve) and career attainment (i.e., how successful players become) in rugby using large samples (n=1,000+) and longitudinal retrospective research designs. Being older, more mature and bigger during adolescence (~13-14 years of age) increases the likelihood of boys being identified by professional coaches. However, the research found that such factors do not relate to future career success, judged by whether they played professional rugby league. The research has emphasised the need to delay talent identification until after maturity (~15 years of age), whilst increasing the number of talent development opportunities to more players within rugby.

CARR’s research has extensively evaluated the physical performance (e.g., strength, speed) of youth rugby players for the last 15 years (i.e., 2005-2020). A Sports Medicine systematic review demonstrated how age, position and standard influence the physical performance of youth players. These findings demonstrated how physical performance improves with age, is greater within higher playing standards and what physical performance variables are related to different playing positions. This research has highlighted the importance of monitoring, analysing and training physical performance within rugby players. This research also validated novel analysis methods using higher-dimensional analysis (i.e., a data reduction technique that allows enhanced data visualisation) to support the presentation of data to enhance coach feedback and reporting, which has been integrated into the RFU and RFL’s player monitoring tools.

CARR’s research since 2014 has evaluated the physical (i.e., running and contact) demands of rugby competition using advanced microtechnology devices and analysis. Studies used large samples, across nine clubs, which are unique in this context. Comparisons between standards of the playing pathway (i.e., junior academy to senior professional) provided the maximal running and collision intensities of competition, which was developed by unique analysis developed by CARR. This analysis has allowed coaches to evaluate the intensity of their training strategies to enhance player development and performance. These methods are now applied across all twelve Super League teams, which includes approximately 380 rugby league players.

CARR’s research was the first to examine the fatigue and recovery profiles in youth rugby union competition and training. This research measured neuromuscular (i.e., jumping), muscle damage (i.e., blood markers) and psychological markers (i.e., mood) across ~20 players for 3 days post match-play and training. The findings demonstrated it takes 48-72 hours to recover from match-play, which is heavily influenced by the number of collisions. These findings informed competition policies, training strategies and recovery for optimising rugby player health and performance.

The impact

To overcome the challenges associated with attaining inclusive participation and performance within rugby, CARR’s international recognised research has changed national (i.e., RFL and RFU) and local (e.g., Leeds Rhinos RLFC, Yorkshire RUFC) rugby policy and player development across the two national governing bodies and a total of 26 academy rugby programmes. These changes have occurred aligned to the four nderpinning research areas detailed above, which are key for developing healthy young rugby players whilst attaining inclusive participation and success across all levels.

Changing national rugby policy and practice

CARR’s research has directly changed the RFL and RFU talent identification and development programmes for young rugby players. This research has revolutionised talent identification policy and practice within rugby by changing the age when players are identified and selected from ~13 to ~15 years to reduce the influence of factors (e.g., maturity) associated with early identification and has increased the number of player development opportunities available within a talent programme (e.g., from 1,000 to 8,000 in the RFU’s Developing Player Programme.) this research has also influenced the implementation of a new reserve level (i.e., Over 18s) competition in rugby league and the creation of a later maturing player programme at Leeds Rhinos RLFC.

urthermore, coach education of relative age and maturity amongst academy managers, coaches and scouts has been pivotal in increasing inclusivity for player development opportunities. Overall, these significant policy changes to rugby’s talent identification and development programmes has resulted in a greater number of players receiving talent development opportunities within the sports.

Based on the CARR’s physical performance research, the RFL and RFU have implemented national fitness testing batteries within their player development programmes across all players aged 15-20 years. Since 2016, ~2,500 young rugby union players (approx. 60% of academy players) have been fitness tested (previously none) and over 1,000 players (males and females) in rugby league. Clubs, coaches and players have been provided feedback on their physical performance compared against all players nationally.

Within rugby league, this research has resulted in the RFL designing, disseminating and implementing an online, interactive physical profiling data visualisation and reporting tool for use across all professional clubs, club staff and players. The implementation of national fitness testing and reporting has benefitted clubs, coaches and players by providing objective data for player comparisons and evaluations. Furthermore, training programmes have advanced that allow players to improve their performances for enhancing the long-term career development of players within the sports.

CARR’s research has significantly changed policy and club practices for preparing players for the demands of competition and player development. For example, academy match-play was identified as lower intensity, which has resulted in the RFL adding a three game Under 18 academy Origin (i.e., Yorkshire vs Lancashire) into their fixture calendar benefitting over 40 players to experience higher-intensity competition to support their player development.

A league-wide dissemination of match-play physical data was shared by the RFL across all twelve RFL Super League clubs and all 14 RFU regional academies, which has influenced coaches planning and practice. Specifically, at Leeds Rhinos RLFC, this research has informed their Player Development Plan [SOURCE G], which is the overriding plan for all coaches and staff at the club for players aged 13 years to senior professional, used for planning long-term player development strategies. An example of this is how the intensity of coaches’ training sessions has significantly increased from 2017 to 2019 (e.g., running intensity increase of 10-15%).

CARR’s research on fatigue and recovery has resulted in the RFU disseminating their Codes of Practice Age Grade Rugby policy. This policy document recommends how often rugby players should train and play and has impacted upon the changes to a competitive fixture list in youth rugby union to reduce congested fixture lists whilst also influencing Leeds Rhinos Player Development Plan. The implementation of these policies are vital for player health, reducing injuries, enhancing recovery and improving player wellbeing.

CARR’s research has directly changed the RFL and RFU talent identification and development programmes for young rugby players. This research has revolutionised talent identification policy and practice within rugby by changing the age when players are identified and selected from ~13 to ~15 years to reduce the influence of factors (e.g., maturity) associated with early identification and has increased the number of player development opportunities available within a talent programme (e.g., from 1,000 to 8,000 in the RFU’s Developing Player Programme.) this research has also influenced the implementation of a new reserve level (i.e., Over 18s) competition in rugby league and the creation of a later maturing player programme at Leeds Rhinos RLFC.

urthermore, coach education of relative age and maturity amongst academy managers, coaches and scouts has been pivotal in increasing inclusivity for player development opportunities. Overall, these significant policy changes to rugby’s talent identification and development programmes has resulted in a greater number of players receiving talent development opportunities within the sports.

Based on the CARR’s physical performance research, the RFL and RFU have implemented national fitness testing batteries within their player development programmes across all players aged 15-20 years. Since 2016, ~2,500 young rugby union players (approx. 60% of academy players) have been fitness tested (previously none) and over 1,000 players (males and females) in rugby league. Clubs, coaches and players have been provided feedback on their physical performance compared against all players nationally.

Within rugby league, this research has resulted in the RFL designing, disseminating and implementing an online, interactive physical profiling data visualisation and reporting tool for use across all professional clubs, club staff and players. The implementation of national fitness testing and reporting has benefitted clubs, coaches and players by providing objective data for player comparisons and evaluations. Furthermore, training programmes have advanced that allow players to improve their performances for enhancing the long-term career development of players within the sports.

CARR’s research has significantly changed policy and club practices for preparing players for the demands of competition and player development. For example, academy match-play was identified as lower intensity, which has resulted in the RFL adding a three game Under 18 academy Origin (i.e., Yorkshire vs Lancashire) into their fixture calendar benefitting over 40 players to experience higher-intensity competition to support their player development.

A league-wide dissemination of match-play physical data was shared by the RFL across all twelve RFL Super League clubs and all 14 RFU regional academies, which has influenced coaches planning and practice. Specifically, at Leeds Rhinos RLFC, this research has informed their Player Development Plan [SOURCE G], which is the overriding plan for all coaches and staff at the club for players aged 13 years to senior professional, used for planning long-term player development strategies. An example of this is how the intensity of coaches’ training sessions has significantly increased from 2017 to 2019 (e.g., running intensity increase of 10-15%).

CARR’s research on fatigue and recovery has resulted in the RFU disseminating their Codes of Practice Age Grade Rugby policy. This policy document recommends how often rugby players should train and play and has impacted upon the changes to a competitive fixture list in youth rugby union to reduce congested fixture lists whilst also influencing Leeds Rhinos Player Development Plan. The implementation of these policies are vital for player health, reducing injuries, enhancing recovery and improving player wellbeing.

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