Rugby Union is a game that necessitates the movement of players and a ball around the pitch. The exploitation of space makes this movement easier and faster. To exploit space and gaps in defence speed and acceleration are both important. In attack, pace allows a player to exploit smaller spaces, to support faster players and to get away from the opposition. In defence, speed is important to allow more flexibility, reliability and scope for aggressive counter-attacking tactics.
Importance of personal speed in attack:
* Ability to exploit and open up small gaps in defence.
* An attacker running at speed is more difficult to tackle than a slower moving target.
* A high level of speed allows closer support for the ball carrier which gives him more options and can allow more dynamic, aggressive tactics to be used.
* When the ball is kicked, a faster player may get to it before the opposition. This allows a much more expansive game to be played.
* A quick player is able to get to break downs and tackle situations quicker, therefore able to retain more possession and keep the game flowing.
Importance of personal speed in defence:
* Makes the defender more likely to catch attackers who break through the first line of defence.
* A fast defender can pressurise the opposition and limit the time and space they have to play in.
* Again, kicks can be got to faster which gives more security in depth.
* A fast defender who has turned over possession is able to turn defensive situations into attacking ones by exploiting the positioning of the opposition and by quickly counter-attacking.
Specific Situational examples:
In an attacking situation where a team mate has possession of the ball and is running at the opposition, a fast supporting player who is able to give close support, empowers the attacker with more options in attack, security in recycling the ball and also it presents the defence with a problem as they have to cover two potential attackers rather than just the ball carrier.
If the ball carrier does get tackled then both the tackled and the tackler are prevented from touching the ball while they are still on the ground. If there is close support for the attacker then the movement may be continued as the supporting player may pick the ball up if they are first to arrive; thus the momentum of the attack is preserved.
In defence, it is often necessary for the full-back to come out of position, into the defensive line to provide cover in width. This means that there is a large space behind the line that can be exploited by an aware attacker. If a kick is put over, into this space then a fast defender would be able to turn, get back to the ball before the attack, and still have time on the ball to make decisions and take action. A slower defender would be pressurised and may not even reach the ball before the attackers.
Speed is defined as the time taken to travel a set distance, therefore, it is relatively easy to see differences in speed. As pace increases, the time taken to travel that set distance decreases. The accepted standard test for max speed is the measuring of the time taken for an individual to sprint 30 metres from a rolling start.
This test is relatively well-suited to test the type of speed that I would be using in rugby. 30 metres is a distance that a rugby player would be expected to sprint many times during the course of a regular match; whether it is to chase a kick, catch an opposition or to make a break. However, it is rare that these sprints are started rolling. During a game it is much more likely that a player will be required to begin a run or movement from a stationary position than a rolling start; for example getting across the pitch from a lineout to tackle an opposition ball carrier.
Usually these sprints are for short distances and require a high level of acceleration to reach the target. I will reflect this in the way that I test myself. I will perform the 30m sprint test as this will provide data that can give an approximation of how I compare with other players of my age and position using performance tables. But I will also perform a 10m stationary start sprint that will more effectively measure my acceleration and therefore give findings that are more applicable to match situations.
For both tests I will have an independent judge to time me, and will perform three trials, choosing the fastest time for recording. I will ensure that I have a sufficient rest period between each trial to prevent a build up of lactate and the consumption of adenosine triphosphate. However, it will be necessary to take into account the effect of the body’s tendency to over-compensate in ATP re-synthesis, that could make later trials faster.
Exercises to improve Speed
Speed can be improved by a) increasing the rate of muscular contraction in the muscles used for the sprinting action, or b) by increasing the force produced by each of those muscular contractions.
The increase in muscular contraction force is a result of the hypertrophy of muscle fibres. When a muscle fibre is forced to contract at a higher power level than it is used to, micro-tears occur as a result of this added pressure. It is the Myosin ‘levers’, that contract to produce movement, that get damaged during overload, as the force required is more than the structure of Myosin arms can handle. Hypertrophy therefore is the body’s adaptation to this new set of force requirements. A larger number of Myosin arms are grown so that next time the same force required will be spread more evenly and will not precipitate the same damage. This results in an increased maximum muscular contraction force and a larger cross-sectional diameter.
I can initiate this process by increasing the required force by upping resistance to the contractions during the exercises, thus utilising the principle of overload.
By performing weight-lifting exercises I can target specific individual muscle groups and therefore get the improvement in the areas that need it most. Weights are also easy to use and make progression easy to implement; I just need to increase the weights being lifted. The weight lifting drills I will use include: squats, power cleans, leg extensions, leg curls and calf raises. When performing Weight lifts it is crucial, in order to achieve maximum benefit to use correct technique. The full range of motion should be utilised in order to recruit the maximum number of muscle fibres and when lowering the weight it is important not to ‘rest’ by just dropping the weight. Instead I should lower the weight slowly thusly working not only the Prime mover but Antagonist muscle groups also.
* Hill Sprints.
By performing sprints against a gradient I am increasing the resistance to muscular contractions using gravity. Again I can easily increase resistance by increasing gradient.
I can increase the rate of muscular contraction by working on quick steps. Drills to help improve this include:
* Ladder Work.
Using a rope ladder, laid along the ground encourages the fast pick-up of knees and accurate placement of the feet. By moving along the ladder at a fast pace while ensuring that each ‘section’ is stepped in, forces the legs to move quicker than usual and therefore helps improve rate of muscular contraction.
Using a rope to skip quickly again helps to improve the rate at which feet are picked up from the ground as well as improving coordination and leg strength.
It is also possible to use plyometric exercises to improve power. These drills involve the fast contraction of muscles to produce a large force. The most common form is bounding over steps. The only problem with this type of exercise is the possibility of inducing muscular damage as a result of the stretch reflex.