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Purpose:

To compare mechanical properties of overground sprint running in elite rugby union and rugby league athletes.

Methods:

Thirty elite rugby code (15 rugby union and 15 rugby league) athletes participated in this cross-sectional analysis. Radar was used to measure maximal overground sprint performance over 20 or 30 m (forwards and backs, respectively). In addition to time at 2, 5, 10, 20, and 30 m, velocity-time signals were analyzed to derive external horizontal force–velocity relationships with a recently validated method. From this relationship, the maximal theoretical velocity, external relative and absolute horizontal force, horizontal power, and optimal horizontal force for peak power production were determined.

Results:

While differences in maximal velocity were unclear between codes, rugby union backs produced moderately faster split times, with the most substantial differences occurring at 2 and 5 m (ES 0.95 and 0.86, respectively). In addition, rugby union backs produced moderately larger relative horizontal force, optimal force, and peak power capabilities than rugby league backs (ES 0.73−0.77). Rugby union forwards had a higher absolute force (ES 0.77) despite having ~12% more body weight than rugby league forwards.

Conclusions:

In this elite sample, rugby union athletes typically displayed greater short-distance sprint performance, which may be linked to an ability to generate high levels of horizontal force and power. The acceleration characteristics presented in this study could be a result of the individual movement and positional demands of each code.

Cross, Brughelli, Brown, Gill, and Cronin are with Sports Performance Research Inst New Zealand (SPRINZ), Auckland University of Technology, Auckland, NZ. Samozino is with the Laboratory of Exercise Physiology, University of Savoy, Le Bourget-du-Lac, France. Morin is with the Laboratory of Human Motricity, Education Sport and Health (LAMHESS), University of Nice Sophia Antipolis, Nice, France.

Address author correspondence to Matt Cross at mcross@aut.ac.nz.