Size, Experience Matter on Rugby Field, Study Finds

SATURDAY, Feb. 25 (HealthDay News) -- When it comes to rugby, players' height, weight and experience are the keys to World Cup success, research indicates.

In a new study, published online Feb. 21 in the British Journal of Sports Medicine, researchers analyzed data on nearly 2,700 players who took part in Rugby World Cup matches between 1987 and 2007, to see what factors helped create a winning team.

Players were put into categories based on their position on the field: "backs" (who wore numbers 9 through 15) or "forwards" (who wore numbers 1 through 8). The investigators then analyzed the age, height and weight data of these two groups and assessed each teams' performance.

Teams that were most successful tended to have the tallest members playing as backs, the heaviest members playing as forwards and the greatest amount of collective experience, according to the study authors.

On average, forwards and backs on high-performing/winning teams weighed about 2 kilograms (4.4 pounds) more than those on less successful teams.

"Given the constraints of the game, which directs the play towards more and more physical confrontations, rugby becomes a sport where heavy players become increasingly important," study author Adrien Sedeaud, of the Institute de Recherche Biomedicale et d'Epidemiologie du Sport in Paris, and colleagues explained in a journal news release.

Backs on teams that reached the finals, semi-finals and quarterfinals were an average of 2 centimeters (0.79 inches) taller than those on teams that didn't advance as far. There was also a similar trend in height for players in the forward positions.

The researchers also looked at data on whether players had competed in the World Cup before or if they were "rookies" and found that winning teams had a greater amount of collective experience among forwards -- nearly 40 percent compared with just under 32 percent on less successful teams.

"Although performance in rugby is complex and multifactorial, simple factors such as mass and height are discriminatory in the armament race. In fact, teams with heavier forwards and taller backs perform better than others," the researchers concluded.

"In addition, teams that win a World Cup, arrive in finals, semifinals and quarterfinals have forwards with greater collective experience than those who do not participate in these matches," they noted.

-- Robert Preidt

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SOURCE: British Journal of Sports Medicine, news release, Feb. 17, 2012