Q. You’ve worked in both Fifteens & Sevens. What are the main differences between the two games?
Apart from the number of players on the pitch, the main difference between Sevens and regular fifteen-a-side rugby is the format of the tournaments.
Unlike 15-a-side, which is played typically every weekend, rugby Sevens is played in tournament format with teams playing up to 6 matches over the course of 2-3 days. The difference in the number of players, coupled with the frequency of matches, has huge implications for the physical preparation programme.
Unlike in rugby Fifteens, where the running and skill demands are very different between forwards and backs, research has shown that in Sevens the running and skill demands are similar between the two parts of the team. The average bodyweight of a Sevens player is approximately 94kg, and ideally we want minimal difference between the forwards and backs.
Players typically run approximately 1,500m per game, and up to 15% of that running is fast running. Players therefore spend the majority of the game with their heart rate between 80 and 90%, emphasising the requirement to be fit.
Q. Does this change the type of player selected for the squad, and the training you prescribe as their Strength and Conditioning coach?
The physical characteristics that we aim to maximise in the physical conditioning programme are strength, speed, fitness and body composition.
Being aerobically and anaerobically conditioned is vital due to the high intensity of the game, the high percentage of fast running and the limited recovery periods between high intensity bouts. Being a fast runner is important as the faster players usually make the most line breaks, carry the ball the most and score the most tries; some of our players reach speeds of over 10 metres per second.
Perhaps one of the most important qualities is being physically strong, as the stronger players recover the quickest and get injured the least. Generally, our strongest guys are also extremely quick and therefore we spend a lot of time improving strength levels.
Due to both the running and collision demands of Sevens, having a low percentage of body fat and a high percentage of muscle is also advantageous.
In summary we want players who are fast, fit, lean, and strong and the programme is tailored to ensure each individual shows improvement in those areas.
Q. What are the biggest challenges of the Sevens circuit?
International Sevens is an extremely demanding sport due to both the travel and competition demands.
Our players are required to travel across multiple time zones to compete in the HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series. Travelling across multiple time zones can lead to a variety of negative symptoms, from sleep deprivation to various metabolic changes.
Sleep deprivation, in particular, is a huge challenge for us, with the players facing several long-haul flights over the course of the Series. This can increase the risk of upper respiratory tract infections such as the common cold. Having a cold can have a massive effect on physical performance, as it can lead to missed training days, so we proactively attempt to reduce the chance of infection.
This is where Healthspan products have become pivotal. We use the Healthspan Elite Zinc Defence Lozenges, as research has shown that Zinc can reduce the duration and severity of cold symptoms.
Long-haul flights can also depress the immune system due to the moisture-free conditions, the circulated air and the lack of vitamins in the food choices. To prevent this, we use Healthspan Elite Gold A-Z Multivitamins & Minerals.
Q. How do you incorporate Healthspan Elite products to support the demands placed on the players?
International Sevens competitions involve playing up to three games per day with as little turnaround as 1.5 hours between games. This is extremely demanding both physically and psychologically, and it is imperative that players both recover and prepare adequately between rounds.
To help players prepare and perform at their maximum we use Healthspan Elite Kick-Start Caffeine Gum. There is evidence that caffeine influences processes in the central nervous system to reduce perception of fatigue, enhance central drive and improve muscle fibre recruitment. Caffeine has also been shown to improve performance in single and multiple sprint sports.
To assist with recovery and daily wellbeing we also use Healthspan Elite High Strength Omega 3, which has anti-inflammatory properties.
Q. What would be your take-home tips for any aspiring Sevens players?
Sevens is a fast-paced and demanding game which requires the same skill set as Fifteens, but has different pressures due to the reduced number of players. These challenges include increased fast running, increased space to defend and attack, increased distance required to pass the ball and the challenge of playing six games across a weekend.
Sevens is an excellent tool to help Fifteens players challenge their skill set under different pressures while improving their physical abilities. Players wishing to succeed in Sevens should focus physically on improving their strength, speed, fitness and body composition, while enhancing their basic rugby attack and defence skills such as passing and tackling.