An aggressive contact sport played by teams of 15, rugby places great physical demands on its participants. Success in rugby requires strength, power, fitness, agility and speed. Rugby players can be divided into two broad groups: forwards and backs. The forwards are the players involved in scrums and can be thought of as the workhorses who battle for possession of the ball, whereas the backs are the runners and kickers who take the play forward to score. Both forwards and backs will benefit from regular speed and agility training.
It’s rare that players sprint very far in a straight line during a rugby match. Most forward movement is defended, so players must be able to dodge and shimmy past the defending team to score. Rapid backward, sideways and diagonal movements as well as the ability to put on bursts of speed are as important as being able to run swiftly forward. Players need to be able to accelerate from a standing start, and particular value is placed on speed over the first 5 to 10 yards after receiving the ball. Sprinting in rugby is different than running on an athletics track, as players have to shoulder their way past the opposition while carrying a rugby ball.
How to Develop Your Speed
Speed can be developed in a number of ways. You can perform downhill sprints to increase leg turnover speed and uphill sprints to develop sprinting power. Sprinting against resistance by dragging a weight sled, using a breaking parachute or pulling a teammate via a specially designed towing harness are also common training methods that will develop your sprinting speed. To make sprinting drills as sports specific as possible, much of your sprint training should be performed while carrying, passing and receiving a rugby ball.
Replicating Rugby Agility
Agility describes your ability to react to the play around you and move accordingly. Diving for a loose ball, passing the ball out of a tackle and side-stepping an opponent are all examples of agility in rugby. Coordination, skill, eye-hand coordination and rapidity of response are all factors in developing agility. Agility is sports specific, so to improve rugby agility training should replicate the demands of a rugby match as closely as possible.
Agility Ladders and Cones
Running around marker cones will improve your multi-directional running ability. Running drills using an agility ladder can be used for developing foot speed and coordination. Hopping and jumping over low hurdles will improve lower body conditioning and reaction balls -- an uneven ball that bounces in random directions when dropped -- will improve eye-hand coordination and reaction speed. Agility drills should be as rugby specific as possible and mirror the demands of the sport. Try to combine skills such as dodging, tackling, catching and passing with your agility training.
Periodization and Timing
Speed and agility training normally takes place after early season strength and conditioning work. This ensures that you are fit enough for the demands of this type of training. Although the physical load of speed and agility training is quite low -- the emphasis being on quality as opposed to quantity -- both types of training are performed at close to or at maximal intensity. Speed and agility training is best placed in the period leading up to the main playing season to ensure you are as fit, sharp and ready as possible for the tough competitive period ahead.