drawings of muscles and exercise apparatus

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

A glimpse of rugby's future - physical imposition by big, fast backs.

The Marseille game between France and the All Blacks was a wonderful display of purposeful ball-in-hand rugby and a clear demonstration of the importance of physical dominance in the backs. There was limited but very judicious kicking and a notable absence of the cut-out pass. Players on both sides were prepared to engage tacklers before off-loading.

In the backs the French were outweighed by nearly 7kg per man, putting them at a serious disadvantage in what developed into an intense, fast-paced physical contest. After 20 minutes France led 9-7 courtesy of three penalty goals; however in the final 20 minutes France failed to score while the All Blacks ran in two tries against a very weary defence.

Former Wallaby coach Bob Dwyer enthused: "New Zealand is now playing the style of rugby that I love. It is ambitious, confident and accurate in its execution - shorter passes, straight running, finding opportunity on the outside or, when closed off, picking up a support player on the 'natural loop'. Beautiful in its simplicity and effective in its outcome!"

Dwyer pointed out that the All Blacks had exposed the French through the channel between the half and five-eighth, noting that for opportunities to open up out wide, it was important to occasionally threaten, or appear to threaten, through this channel. Significantly, the All Black half, Jimmy Cowan, outweighed his counterpart, Julien Dupuy, by 14kg, while Dan Carter had a 9kg advantage over François Trinh-Duc.

Dwyer rates inside centre Ma'a Nonu as the most improved player in world rugby. While retaining his 'crash and bash' approach he "has added finesse and a real appreciation of the ways to 'fix' defenders and is now a far more difficult proposition altogether." The heaviest back on the field at 104kg, Nonu outweighed Yannick Jauzion by 9kg.

New Zealand, the traditional home of the 'two five-eighths game', has now developed an outstanding backline which features a big, powerful direct-running 12. The players outside Nonu; Conrad Smith, Sitiveni Sivivatu, Cory Jane and Mils Muliaina are all committed to bending or breaking the defensive line when appropriate as well as exploiting defensive gaps. The players also consistently and enthusiastically back one another up.

I am convinced that this Kiwi backline is a forerunner of what will become increasingly common in the next few years. Modern training methods are producing a new generation of seriously big, powerful and quick players. The most effective way of exploiting their comparative advantage is to play a very direct ball-in-hand attack coupled with brick wall defence and to maintain this pattern over the full 80 minutes. Smaller and weaker opponents may be able to withstand this type of pressure for long periods but eventually physical and mental fatigue will cause them to yield.

There will always be a place in rugby for the very skillful smaller player like Matt Giteau, but loading up backlines with physically inferior so-called playmakers, particularly if they are tackle-shy, is not the way forward.


Sunday, November 22, 2009

Wallabies' illegal scrum tactics against Scotland

A great gutsy win against the odds to Scotland.

One very blatant tactic adopted by the Australian scrum was to prematurely wheel on Scotland's feeds.

Law 20.1 (k) states:

Stationary and parallel. Until the ball leaves the scrum half’s hands, the scrum must be stationary and the middle line must be parallel to the goal lines.

The Australian pack was systematically shifting left meaning they were neither stationary nor parallel before the ball was put into the scrum. That this was a deliberate tactic was made obvious by the fact that the Wallabies stayed square whenever the referee moved to the non-feed side of the scrum.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Nine-a-side rugby – a game for boofy blokes

For many rugby aficionados the sevens version of the game is deeply unsatisfying; a skim milk, decaffeinated, lukewarm concoction. At the same time there are aspects of the fifteen-a-side game that currently make it a very boring spectacle; in particular the time wasting and over-emphasis on kicking.

What I want to propose is a shortened form of the game designed for knockout carnivals which would retain most of the elements that make rugby so distinctive. There would be strong emphasis on physical engagement and the scoring of tries.

Essential elements of nines rugby

The Laws of the Game would apply to the nine-a-side game, subject to the following variations:

Playing field The field of play is narrowed from not more than 70 metres to not more than 40 metres. There is no need for goal posts and crossbars.

Player numbers At any time each team has no more than nine players on the field. Teams also have to have at least two replacements/substitutes suitably trained and experienced to play in the front row. The total number of replacements/substitutes nominated cannot exceed five of whom only three can be used in a match.

Method of scoring Tries are the only method of scoring.

Duration of matches A match consists of two halves of not more than ten minutes playing time plus lost time and extra time. However, the two halves of a competition final match may last no longer than fifteen minutes plus lost time and extra time. There will be an interval of not more than one minute at half-time, or two minutes during a competition final.

When scores are tied at full-time, extra time is played in periods of five minutes. After each period, the teams change ends without an interval. In extra time, the team that scores points first is immediately declared the winner, without any further play.

Replacement of front row players If a front row forward leaves the field and the team cannot provide a suitably trained replacement, a penalty try will be awarded against the team and the match will be continued with three-man scrums.

If the referee has signalled for a scrum to take place and a front row forward is unable to take part in the scrum without delay the referee may require that that player be temporarily replaced.

Foul play Temporary suspension of a player will be for a period of three minutes.

Mark Marks may be claimed anywhere within the field of play or in the team’s own in-goal.

Throw-in When a player anywhere in the field of play kicks directly into touch other than from a penalty, there is no gain in ground.

Five-man scrum A scrum must have five players from each team.

Lineout The player throwing the ball into the lineout shall have a maximum of twenty seconds from when the lineout begins to form to throw the ball in.

With these variations to the Laws we would have a game which is played with minimum time wasting and delays. Features which make rugby so distinctive, namely serious scrums, lineouts, rucks and mauls, are retained. And importantly the only method of winning games is to score tries.

The amount of kicking would be reduced, firstly because teams gain no advantage from kicking out on the full from their own 22, and secondly the use of the up-and-under is largely negated by the defending side being able to claim a mark anywhere on the field. At the same time teams would continue to be rewarded for accurate kicking where the ball bounces in the field of play before going into touch.

Narrowing the field of play is appropriate because the number of backline players is effectively reduced from seven to four.

Reduction in player numbers is likely to be of benefit to the fifteen-a-side game because players will have to focus on correct technique at the breakdown with referees having a much clearer view of what is going on. Spectators and viewers will also be better able to see the intricacies of scrums, lineouts and breakdown contests, which may have the effect of winning new supporters for the code.

Nine-a-side rugby will be a fast-moving, physically demanding and entertaining form of rugby which is complementary to sevens but likely to appeal to a different player and supporter base.


Thursday, November 12, 2009

Too old at 30 - Australian rugby's "scrapheap" policy

The Australian rugby coach and his selectors appear to be following a quite deliberate policy of favouring emerging players over those with significant international playing experience. One consequence of this is that the Australian Super 14 franchises are being denuded of senior players who traditionally mentor and guide those who are just learning their craft.

In the Test against Ireland, the Wallabies do not have a single player aged 30 or more in their starting fifteen. Their opponents have eight, a majority of the team! The average age of our 22-man squad is 25.2 years; theirs is 27.5. Our oldest starter is 28.

Consider the average age of the most recent teams of the top ten rugby countries, i.e., Tri-Nations, Six Nations plus Argentina. Every other side's players are more than a year older than the Wallabies. And every other country has two or more starting players who are at least 30 years old.

Rugby is an unusually complex game. It takes players years to achieve real competency. And yet we are seeing a new generation of talented youngsters rushed from school into professional football and then on to the international level. A minority manage to establish themselves at the top, but I wonder whether even they achieve their full potential. In their development years they should be playing in an environment where they can dominate instead of one where they constantly struggle to survive.

Because of the centralised control of the sport by the ARU, the premature discarding of experienced players has extremely adverse impacts at the Super 14 levels and even down through the clubs. The central body dictates how much players can be paid by the franchises who are basically mendicants surviving on handouts from the centre. It is therefore only those players who are on ARU contracts who earn large incomes. Once taken off the national list players have little choice but to round out their careers in Europe or in the Bermuda Triangle of Japanese rugby.

The effect of this is that all their accumulated wisdom and experience is lost to their Super 14 teams and their clubs; basically to Australian rugby. And then people say that we don't have a large enough talent pool in Australia. The main way in which the great minds who control our sport have dealt with this problem is to buy in so-called rugby league marquee players who then spend years trying to master the fundamentals of our sport. How can young players benefit by playing with extravagantly paid blow-ins who know vastly less than they do?

It has been observed that rugby is basically war without the guns. When you're forced to slog it out in the trenches, who would you want with you? A grizzled battle-scarred veteran or an over-excited kid who believes all the hype and publicity generated about him. Small wonder that we can't string wins together.


Saturday, November 07, 2009

Rugby's Age of the Low Skinfold Giants

In 1991 England's international rugby forwards and backs weighed, on average, 100 kg and 83 kg respectively. Their counterparts in 2003 weighed 109 kg and 90 kg. (England Rugby Injury and Training Audit 2002-04)

By comparison in this year's Test against the Wallabies the England squad's average weight had further risen to 113.4 kg for the forwards and 93.4 kg for the backs. Thus in just 18 years elite level forwards had increased their weight by some 13 kg and the backs by 10 kg. And a much greater proportion of the bulk of the modern player is lean body mass.

Present day players are not just bigger, but also stronger and fitter and, certainly with the forwards, much quicker than those of the pre-professional era. Thus there is massively greater force being generated in the game's collisions, even without taken account of the modern two-on-one techniques of tackling. Little wonder then that the coaches' preferred teams have been decimated by injury from both playing and training.

For this Test the Wallaby forwards were outweighed by about one kg per man and the backs by two kg. But there was a very significant weight discrepancy in the front row. England's engine room five averaged a massive 119 kg while their opponents were a relatively puny 114 kg.

One of the greatest differences between the squads was in the players' ages. Ten of the home team's squad of 22 were aged 29 or older. By contrast the Australians, who seem to be taking the view that anyone over 30 is ready for the Golden Oldies, had just three.

There is a ten-year age gap between the ages of the reserve outside backs. Ayoola Enrile is 29 while James O'Connor is just 19. But this is inconsequential compared to the massive difference in their body weights. Enrile weighs 110 kg, a full 30 kg heavier than O'Connor!

Small wonder then that The Australian in late October attributed to Robbie Deans the view that "there could come a time when the Matt Giteaus, James O'Connors and Will Genias of the game simply find themselves too small to survive at the top level.”


Saturday, October 31, 2009

The tackle-shy Bledisloe

The Tokyo Bledisloe match featured the clash of two backlines who basically can't tackle to save themselves. Both the Wallabies and All Blacks backs fall off one in four tackles they attempt.

Let's look at the Wallabies first, using calculations derived from 2009 Super 14 stats compiled by Verusco Technologies. The first figure is the average number of tackles made per 80 minutes played, and the figure in brackets is the percentage of missed tackles:

Wallabies backs
Will Genia 7.5 (27.0)
Matt Giteau 10.0 (15.6)
Digby Ioane 7.3 (25.6)
Adam Ashley-Cooper 7.2 (25.0)
Ryan Cross 7.9 (19.0)
Peter Hynes 5.7 (19.5)
James O'Connor 8.5 (14.5)
Luke Burgess 9.7 (15.7)
Drew Mitchell 4.2 (33.3)
Quade Cooper 8.8 (42.0)
Average 7.7 (23.7)

All Blacks backs
Jimmy Cowan 6.3 (17.7)
Dan Carter - (-)
Sitiveni Sivivatu 5.4 (20.5)
Ma'a Nonu 8.7 (16.4)
Conrad Smith 8.5 (20.0)
Cory Jane 5.6 (21.7)
Mils Muliaina 4.2 (22.0)
Brendan Leonard 7.1 (27.6)
Stephen Donald 5.6 (40.0
Tamati Ellison 6.5 (25.6)
Average 6.4 (23.5)

And the situation gets worse with the rest of the injured and non-selected Wallabies backs:

Berrick Barnes 9.6 (25.7)
Kurtley Beale 7.5 (33.3)
Rob Horne 8.9 (29.2)
Richard Kingi 5.6 (33.3)
Stirling Mortlock 6.1 (38.0)
Tyrone Smith 8.6 (29.8)
Matt Toomua 9.1 (28.9)
Average 7.9 (31.2)

And the man who can't get a guernsey no matter how many players break down? Tom Carter averaged 12.7 tackles per 80 minutes and missed just 6.7%.


Saturday, March 07, 2009

Scatter-gun or clustering―where is the logical location for Australian rugby’s fifth Super franchise?

[Summary: In considering locations for a fifth Australian Super franchise, the Australian Rugby Union appears to be neglecting the option of basing it in the heartland of Australian rugby―the inner city suburbs of Sydney. Both the ARL and AFL have the majority of their clubs located in the city in which their game developed.

Given that this week’s SANZAR board meeting was held in Dubai one should not expect too much respect to be paid to location theory in determining the next site for expanding the Super 14 competition.

Australian Rugby Union supremo John O’Neill has justifiably argued strongly for the fifteenth franchise to be granted to Australia, but where should such a team be based? Perhaps an examination of the location of professional teams in other football codes in Australia might be illuminating.

The Australian Rugby League has sixteen Premiership clubs. Nine of these (56%) are located in Sydney; four (25%) in other traditional rugby league areas; and three (19%) in what might be classed as expansion areas, namely Melbourne, New Zealand and the Gold Coast.

The Australian Football League also has sixteen Premiership clubs. Nine of these (56%) are located in Melbourne; five (31%) in other traditional Australian Rules areas; and two (13%) in expansion areas, namely Sydney and Brisbane.

It can be seen that in both of the major codes with which rugby competes the majority of teams are located in the city in which their game developed. By contrast Australian rugby has just four professional teams; one in Sydney where the game has its Australian roots (25%); one in Brisbane, a traditional rugby area(25%); and two in expansion areas, namely Canberra and Perth(50%).

John O’Neill has been quoted as saying that in choosing a location for the additional team “the Gold Coast, Melbourne and West Sydney boasted the necessary prerequisites, while also mentioning Gosford and Newcastle.” Let’s look at the logic of these five sites.

Starting with Gosford, its main attraction would appear to be that it has an underutilised stadium, apparently constructed by John Singleton in “Field of Dreams” mode. Well he built it but they didn’t come. The area lacks critical population mass, is devoid of major corporations to provide sponsorship support, and lacks an underlying club competition of anything remotely like an appropriate standard.

Newcastle would also seem to be deficient in terms of population, business support and strength of its club competition. In fact, a Newcastle team competed in the Sydney Club Premiership competition for a few seasons in the late 1990s but folded due to lack of support from the Newcastle public.

Placing a team in Melbourne would create many of the same problems faced by the Western Force, namely being in a city where the overwhelming majority of the population have no interest in rugby and don’t really know the difference between rugby and rugby league, and not having an underpinning club competition of anywhere near acceptable standard.

Giving a franchise to the Gold Coast, an area that supports just one team in the Brisbane Premiership club competition, means that the South-East Queensland conurbation, essentially Greater Brisbane, would have two Super 15 clubs while Sydney would have only one. Giving their relative populations, strength of their club football competitions and business clout, this does not make sense.

So that just leaves West Sydney―or does it? John O’Neill has, if I recall correctly, mentioned both Blacktown and Parramatta as possible locations, but where is rugby’s heartland in Sydney? It has always been in the inner city suburbs, basically clustered around the harbour.

Of the last fifty Sydney First Grade Premierships, twenty-three have been won by Randwick and ten by Sydney University. If we then add in those won by other harbour-side clubs―Norths, Gordon, Manly and Easts―45 of the last 50 Premierships or 90% have been won by rugby-heartland clubs. Only five or 10% have been won by clubs which could be regarded as part of West Sydney―three by Eastwood and two by Parramatta.

In addition the great bulk of the wealthy private schools which have been the major nursery for Australian rugby players are located in the heartland suburbs.

Club rugby has always struggled in West Sydney, and even the club which has enjoyed success in recent years, Eastwood, is facing a financial crisis partly due to a rapidly changing demographic unfavourable to rugby.

If we had a central Sydney team in addition to the NSW Waratahs where would it play? The obvious answer is the Football Stadium. Very few professional football teams own their own grounds; it makes much better economic sense to hire an existing facility.

Would there be sufficient support to sustain two teams in the one city? Apart from the obvious examples from the ARL and the AFL, English cities such as Liverpool and Manchester, both much smaller than Sydney, have dual soccer clubs as well as numerous other clubs clustered nearby. The proximity of rivals seems to promote fierce tribalism and increased interest in the sport.

In discussing a new Australian franchise John O’Neill spoke about the possibility of a “’hybrid team’ including Pacific Islanders, Australia expats and league converts.” Ignoring the wisdom or otherwise of sourcing players in this way, why might there be a deficiency of professional standard rugby players in Australia? Precisely because there are so few opportunities for rugby players to ply their trade in their own country.

As mentioned above, there are sixteen fully professional clubs in both the ARL and the AFL. By contrast there are only four Australian Super 14 clubs. In broad terms this means that there are four times as many opportunities for rugby league and Australian football players to play professionally here as there are in rugby. Given time, the additional demand for players created by a fifth franchise will produce the necessary supply. That process will take much longer than it should because, with a few notable exceptions, player development has been grossly neglected by the administrators of rugby in Australia.


Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Daniel Vickerman rates MyoQuip strength machines as "absolutely fantastic"

Dan Vickerman is recognised as one of the top lineout forwards in world rugby. Born in South Africa, he has the unusual distinction of having represented both South Africa and Australia at the Under-21 level. In 2002 he made his debut for the Wallabies against France, going on to make 55 Test appearances. He played Super Rugby with the ACT Brumbies from 2001 to 2003 and the NSW Waratahs from 2004 to 2008.

Having been forced to study online throughout his first degree, a Bachelor of Financial Planning through Open Universities Australia (RMIT), he responded to the opportunity to study at Cambridge by suspending his international rugby career to enjoy the luxury of full time study. He is now reading for a degree in Land Economy at Cambridge's Hughes Hall.

At 204cm, Dan's limb geometry is unsuited for exercises such as the squat. Not surprisingly he acknowledges that "I have suffered from back injuries in the past due to the nature of some exercises in the gym." In fact, a very high proportion of professional rugby forwards avoid squatting because of back problems.

Fortunately, for the past four seasons both in the Waratah's gym and at Camp Wallaby at Coff's Harbour, Vickerman has had access to the MyoQuip ScrumTruk which he describes as "an asset to me during my rugby career." Recently, when forced by injury to take a break from national representation after the Super 14 Final, he went back to his club, Sydney University, to undertake rehabilitation with strength and conditioning guru Martin Harland. At the Uni gym he made extensive use of both the ScrumTruk and the HipneeThrust lying leg press before setting off for Cambridge.

"For me the two machines, the ScrumTruk and the HipneeThrust, have been absolutely great," Vickerman says. "The use of these machines gives the ability to build strength without putting strain on one's lower back. As a forward the strength gained transfers well onto the field due to their practicality and specificity to what we do during the game."

(The Sydney University gymnasium has now replaced its ScrumTruk and HipneeThrust machines with the more advanced MyoTruk and MyoThrusta)


Monday, January 05, 2009

The essence of rugby

Rugby football is a game I can't claim absolutely to understand in all its niceties, if you know what I mean. I can follow the broad, general principles, of course. I mean to say, I know that the main scheme is to work the ball down the field somehow and deposit it over the line at the other end, and that, in order to squelch this programme, each side is allowed a certain amount of assault and battery and do things to its fellow-man which, if done elsewhere, would result in fourteen days without the option, coupled with some strong remarks from the Bench.

P.G. Wodehouse, Very Good, Jeeves, 1930

Friday, January 02, 2009

Rugby scrum mechanics, technique and strength training: links to articles

[Summary: Here is a collection of links to articles, posts and web pages about rugby scrum technique and strength training. Arranged alphabetically by title, each of them conforms to the commons principle by being freely available for viewing without payment and by not being password-protected.]

"Andy Sheridan - an aberration or is prodigious strength the future of rugby?" Bruce Ross
"[Andy Sheridan's] example suggests that players with appropriate genetic endowment can achieve massive strength specific to the demands of their sport through the long term application of strength training techniques. However, in order to do so, these players currently have to almost defy the rugby world's orthodoxy in relation to strength and conditioning."
MyoQuip Blog

"Assessment of scrummaging performance" Stuart Mills and Paul Robinson
"with the new era of professional rugby and an increased scientific approach, rugby clubs should evaluate the validity of the physical tests they currently use and consider adopting rugby specific tests that measure scrummaging performance directly. This would increase confidence in the validity of the test data and result in the real weaknesses being addressed, thereby improving the preparation of players for competition."
Coaches' Infoservice

"The attacking scrum" Angus Baker
"the scrum, if applied correctly, becomes an essential attacking platform to the modern game and maximises attacking options."

"Body height in the rugby scrum: the value of equal hip and knee joint angles" Bruce Ross
"an optimal configuration of body position and limb alignment on engagement involves hip and knee angles each set at 90° with both trunk and shank being parallel to the ground. During the scrum, hip and knee joints should move synchronously so that their angles remain equal."

"Building the scrum" Graham Smith
"A dominant scrummage ... not only provides your team with excellent possession, but it is also a vehicle which can exhaust the opposition pack, and demotify and dispirit the opposition backs, for they will always be on the back foot, always under pressure."

"The guru and the scrum
"No foot in the scrum should move from its starting position. The way your feet are before you actually engage is the way they must stay so you do not get a destabilised scrum as players try to readjust their feet."

"Introducing the ScrumTruk rugby strength builder" Bruce Ross
"In exercising with ScrumTruk, the lower spine adopts moderate curvature necessary for effective pushing and avoidance of lower back strain. This
position also triggers isometric contraction of the stabilising muscles of the pelvic and abdominal regions."
MyoQuip Blog

"The mechanics of the scrum and implications for the role of the tight head prop, right lock and right flanker." David Docherty
"An important aspect of scrummaging is understanding the way in which the scrum will tend to move or wheel and how it can used to advantage or needs to be resisted."
Eastern Rockies Rugby Football Union

"Prop-specific strength training at the shove" Conrad Comer
"It cannot be over-stressed how important it is for players in such a vulnerable position to train through the full range of movement."

"Scrum mechanics, technique and problem solving - or, helping the 'girls' understand the 'dark arts.'" Mark Calverley
"In this article I am ... trying to apply mechanics to the scrum, but without using biomechanics jargon."

"Scrums - have we got it right?" Andrew Beattie
"about 8.3 minutes of a game of Rugby Union is devoted to scrums."

"Static neck stretches"
"simple exercises ... will develop the neck muscles and help against the chance of doing irreparable damage during a game or training."

"The scrum" Martin Hynes
"Squat weight-lifting principles are very important in scrummaging and a player's basic technique can be checked in weight training ... or simply by getting the player to hold a stick across his shoulders so that he can demonstrate his squat style/technique."

"The Scrum" Matt Ryan
"it is my belief that you should not be coaching Rugby Union unless you can coach a safe scrum collapse procedure. This is an extremely dangerous part of the game."
Singapore Rugby Union Technical Director

"Tight five
scrummaging - it's all about body shape
" Mark Bell
"This discussion paper will address the role of the tight five and identify how good body shape and correct scrummaging can significantly reduce the fatigue caused to players by scrummaging."

"Total impact method: a variation on engagement technique in the rugby scrum" Doug McClymont
"The principle of conservation of momentum ensures that the pack that is moving faster at impact will apply a greater force, and that pack will tend
to maintain its position rather than being moved back."
Coaches' Infoservice

I would be grateful for any suggestions of other articles that could be added to this list or for any comments on any of the articles.