Patterns of play of international rugby union teams before and after the introduction of professional status.
Many methods of assessing game intensity that are appropriate to the research scientist- including heart rate analysis (Ali and Farrally1), blood lactates (Deutsch, Maw, Jenkins and Reaburn2) and time-motion analysis (Reilly and Thomas3 and Withers, Maricic, Wasilewski and Kelly4) - may have limited application in the 'real world'. Hence in game analysis, the relative simplicity of videotape recordings may be considered the most appropriate tool for the rugby coach in terms of applicability and reproducibility. Anecdotal evidence would suggest that since the introduction of professional rugby union, the game has become more intense due to increases in total activity duration and speed of play. Analysis using a modified time/motion approach specifically relating to activity times may provide detailed information on the relative intensity of the game. The purpose of this study was to compare the time and frequency of activity and ball re-cycling (using videotaped recordings) of International Rugby Union teams in four discrete periods spanning the inception of professional rugby in the mid 1990's with particular reference to periods spanning the inception of professional status in 1995/6. Individual activity times (initial possession to completed tackle) were recorded for twelve pre-recorded matches (1988-2002) taken from the Five and Six Nations Championships; using a standard lap split time stopwatch and hand notation system. Intra-observer reliability analysis of ruck time indicated 0.11sec difference between observations. This represented 96% level of agreement. For activity time, intra-observer reliability was calculated as 0.18 sec difference between observations. This represented an agreement of 97%. Repeated measure ANOVA indicated highly significant differences between periods activity times (F = 10.16, df = 3 12, p = .001). Post hoc analysis (Tukey HSD) revealed differences to be between period 1 compared to period 3 and period 1 compared with period 4. No main effect was established for ruck time. Analysis of ruck frequency revealed significant differences (F = 13.87, df = 3, 12, p < .0005) between games periods. Post hoc analysis indicated these to be between periods 4 and 2 (p =. 003) and 4 and 1 (p = .0005). Repeated measures analysis for frequency of activity revealed significant main effects for period (F = 5.39, df = 3, 12, p <. 01). Results of post hoc analysis revealed differences in activity instances between periods 1 and 4 (p = .01). Analysis of ball in play time comparing pre and post 1995 revealed a significant main effect for period (F = 12.97, df =1, 14, p =. 003) with ball in play 26.5% of the time in the period pre-1995 compared to 32.1% of the time in the period post-1995. This represents a mean time difference of 4 minutes and 45 seconds of play. It was concluded that since the inception of professional status in rugby union, the mean time players spend in game activity has been significantly reduced, whilst total game activity has been increased. Similarly the frequency of rucks has significantly increased in the post professional era, although the speed of ball recycling has been shown to be relatively consistent during 1988-2002.This indicates that the game activity patterns may have shifted towards a faster ruck dominated game which includes more phases of play. Consequently, game activity time has increased indicating a positive shift in game activity duration. Accordingly, such changes in the game need to be considered in designing training schedules for rugby union.
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