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Peak Running Demands in Elite Women’s Rugby Sevens and Rugby Union Match Play: A Comparative Study

Anthony Couderc, Mathieu Lacome, Jeremy Cheradame, Christopher Carling, and Julien Piscione

Purpose: In women’s rugby, players regularly interchange between the rugby sevens (R7) and rugby union (RU) formats. Yet, the game demands and particularly the physical aspects respective to both formats vary and players must be able to respond accordingly. The aim of this study was to compare peak running demands in R7 and RU players. Methods: A total of 51 international women players participated. HSBC World Sevens Series (n = 19) and Six Nations Rugby Union tournament matches (n = 10) were analyzed for a total of 437 individual match observations. Global positioning systems were utilized to measure total (in meters) and high-speed (above 16 km·h−1, in meters) distance and frequency of accelerations (above 2.5 m·s−2, n) during different rolling-average periods (1–7 min) to obtain peak running activity values. Power law modeling was used to obtain slope and intercept. For all variables, peak values and the value at the 90th percentile (P90) were analyzed. Results: No intercept difference (P = .25; −0.12 ± 0.17) was observed between formats for total distance (161 vs 155 m·min−1). In contrast, R7 players reported a higher intercept (P = .01; −0.29 ± 0.17) for high-speed distance (66 vs 51 m·min−1), while the intercept was higher (P = .01; 0.31 ± 0.20) in RU for accelerations performed (6.1 vs 5.4 n·min−1). Regarding P90, higher values (P < .001) were observed in R7 for total and high-speed distance and accelerations. Conclusions: While peak overall intensity was similar, P90 on the high-speed spectrum was higher in R7. Information on the most demanding match-play periods specific to both women’s rugby formats can inform training specificity by tailoring sessions to ensure sufficient exposure to these peak demands and, consequently, aid transitioning between formats.

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Four Sessions of Repeated-Sprint Cycling Training With or Without Severe Hypoxia Do Not Modify Overground Running Sprint Force–Velocity Profile

Franck Brocherie, Sebastien Racinais, Anthony Couderc, Julien Piscione, and Olivier Girard

Purpose: To investigate the effect of cycling-based repeated-sprint training in hypoxia versus in normoxia on single overground running sprint performance and associated force–velocity (F–V) profile in world-class female rugby sevens players. Methods: Eighteen world-class female rugby sevens players were randomly assigned to repeated-sprint cycling training in normobaric hypoxia (n = 9) or normoxia (n = 9) groups. Training consisted of 4 sessions of repeated-sprint cycling training in normobaric hypoxia or in normoxia (4 × 5 × 5-s cycle sprints—25-s intersprint recovery performed in simulated altitude of ∼5000 m or in normoxia with 3-min interset rest in normoxia for both groups) in addition to rugby sevens training and strength and conditioning sessions within a 9-day intervention period before an international competition. Before and 1 day after the intervention, single 50-m overground running “all-out” sprint performance and associated F–V-related mechanical output were assessed. Results: No interaction (group × time; all P > .088), time effect (before vs 1 d after; all P > .296), or group effect (repeated-sprint cycling training in normobaric hypoxia vs in normoxia; all P > .325) was detected for 50-m overground running sprint performance and any derived F–V profiling variables. Conclusions: Four sessions of repeated-sprint training either in hypoxia or in normoxia performed over 9 days had no influence on single 50-m overground running sprint performance and associated F–V profile. In world-class female rugby sevens players, the intervention (training camp before an international competition) might have been too short to induce measurable changes. It is also plausible that implementing a similar program in players with likely different F–V profile may result in negligible mechanical effect.

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Movement Patterns and Metabolic Responses During an International Rugby Sevens Tournament

Anthony Couderc, Claire Thomas, Mathieu Lacome, Julien Piscione, Julien Robineau, Rémi Delfour-Peyrethon, Rachel Borne, and Christine Hanon

Purpose:

To investigate the running demands and associated metabolic perturbations during an official rugby sevens tournament.

Methods:

Twelve elite players participated in 7 matches wearing GPS units. Maximal sprinting speed (MSS) and maximal aerobic speed (MAS) were measured. High-intensity threshold was individualized relative to MAS (>100% of MAS), and very-high-intensity distance was reported relative to both MAS and MSS. Blood samples were taken at rest and after each match.

Results:

Comparison of prematch and postmatch samples revealed significant (P < .01) changes in pH (7.41–7.25), bicarbonate concentration ([HCO3 ]) (24.8–13.6 mmol/L), and lactate concentration ([La]) (2.4–11.9 mmol/L). Mean relative total distance covered was 91 ± 13 m/min with ~17 m/min at high-intensity. Player status (whole-match or interchanged players), match time, and total distance covered had no significant impact on metabolic indices. Relative distance covered at high intensity was negatively correlated with pH and [HCO3 ] (r = .44 and r = .42, respectively; P < .01) and positively correlated with [La] (r = .36; P < .01). Total distance covered and distance covered at very high intensity during the 1-min peak activity in the last 3 min of play were correlated with [La] (r = .39 and r = .39, respectively; P < .01).

Conclusions:

Significant alterations in blood-metabolite indices from prematch to postmatch sampling suggest that players were required to tolerate a substantial level of acidosis related to metabolite accumulation. In addition, the ability to produce energy via the glycolytic energy pathway seems to be a major determinant in match-related running performance.

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Quantifying Neuromuscular Fatigue Induced by an Intense Training Session in Rugby Sevens

Bruno Marrier, Yann Le Meur, Julien Robineau, Mathieu Lacome, Anthony Couderc, Christophe Hausswirth, Julien Piscione, and Jean-Benoît Morin

Purpose:

To compare the sensitivity of a sprint vs a countermovement-jump (CMJ) test after an intense training session in international rugby sevens players, as well as analyze the effects of fatigue on sprint acceleration.

Methods:

Thirteen international rugby sevens players completed two 30-m sprints and a set of 4 repetitions of CMJ before and after a highly demanding rugby sevens training session.

Results:

Change in CMJ height was unclear (–3.6%; ±90% confidence limits 11.9%. Chances of a true positive/trivial/negative change: 24/10/66%), while a very likely small increase in 30-m sprint time was observed (1.0%; ±0.7%, 96/3/1%). A very likely small decrease in the maximum horizontal theoretical velocity (V0) (–2.4; ±1.8%, 1/4/95%) was observed. A very large correlation (r = –.79 ± .23) between the variations of V0 and 30-m-sprint performance was also observed. Changes in 30-m sprint time were negatively and very largely correlated with the distance covered above the maximal aerobic speed (r = –.71 ± .32).

Conclusions:

The CMJ test appears to be less sensitive than the sprint test, which casts doubts on the usefulness of a vertical-jump test in sports such as rugby that mainly involve horizontal motions. The decline in sprint performance relates more to a decrease in velocity than in force capability and is correlated with the distance covered at high intensity.

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Physical-Preparation Recommendations for Elite Rugby Sevens Performance

Jake Schuster, Dan Howells, Julien Robineau, Anthony Couderc, Alex Natera, Nick Lumley, Tim J. Gabbett, and Nick Winkelman

Rugby sevens, a sport new to the Olympics, features high-intensity intermittent running and contact efforts over short match durations, normally 6 times across 2 to 3 d in a tournament format. Elite rugby sevens seasons often include over a dozen competitive tournaments over less than 9 months, demanding deliberate and careful training-stress balance and workload management alongside development of the necessary physical qualities required for competition. Focus on running and repeated power skills, strength, and match-specific conditioning capacities is advised. Partial taper approaches in combination with high-speed running (>5 m/s from GPS measures) before and between tournaments in succession may reduce injury rates and enhance performance. In a sport with substantial long-haul intercontinental travel and repetitive chronic load demands, management of logistics including nutrition and recovery is inclusive of the formula for success in the physical preparation of elite rugby sevens athletes.