Although Rugby has been around since the early 1800s, the sport is very much still evolving. Like most other sports, we are continuously perfecting the methods we use when training and competing through a combination of experience, technology, and advancements in health and science. Although rugby has come a long way since its origins in England, it’s amazing just how much has changed in the past few decades alone. Here are some aspects of the sport that are seeing the most development.
Athletes are Getting Bigger and Stronger
Whether you want to compare to the origins of the sport, or just the last few decades, the fact is that athletes are getting better in nearly every measurable way. Performance across most major sports is going through the roof in the pursuit of constantly getting better. Rugby is no exception.
Not only are records being broken worldwide, but the average size of athletes in sports like rugby and American football is going up as well. For instance, Ruckscience.com reported that the average rugby player weighs almost 25% more than their 1950s equivalent. While that is a huge leap in time, it is happening on a smaller scale every single year.
The factors behind this trend are clear for rugby analysts. Simply put, the science of the sport and health, in general, are becoming more understood on an annual basis. There are improvements in nutrition, recovery, training, and injury prevention and all of these factors are leading to stronger, healthier athletes. Of course, there are also breakthroughs happening in safety for these athletes as well.
The Safety of the Sport
Rugby has been heavily criticized in the past for its hard-hitting playstyle and lack of protective equipment. Concussions in particular have become widely discussed as research has started to reveal the real long term effects of these injuries. The science can not be denied in this case, and in an effort to reduce these injuries, there have been many proposed changes to the tackling rules.
Fatigue from the lengthy seasons is another concern. The conversation regarding fixture congestion has been a popular topic in recent years in the football world. While the physical demands required of elite-level footballers is a factor that is accepted, some proponents believe that we can mitigate or limit these effects by also dialling back on the extensive football seasons. This is a philosophy that has been mirrored in rugby as well. Recently, Catalans Dragons’ head coach Steve McNamara has let his own concerns be known regarding fixture congestion. Studies have shown that fatigue is caused by mental factors just as much as physical ones, and lengthy rugby seasons are driving the fatigue factor.
Technology is Changing the Game
In many ways, technology is also fuelling the changes that are visible in the sport. Almost every element involved in rugby is getting an overhaul thanks to technology. To begin, there is the changing nature of the referees. A few years ago, we started to see the “ref cams,” lightweight GoPro cameras that are strapped to the referee to show an up-close view of the action from the pitch. This enables more accurate calls and HD replays that help to ensure a fair playing field.
Next up are the ways that technology can be used to prevent concussions and other injuries. Companies like OPRO+ have been working on some viable solutions. They are currently building impact sensors that are embedded in the mouth guards of the players. These sensors measure the force of impact that these players are taking and then transmit this data to doctors that will determine if a player needs further assistance after a tackle.
Of course, technology is also enabling fans to get closer to the sport and the players. With social media seemingly everywhere in the world today, fans have more opportunities to interact with the players that otherwise would not be possible.
Streaming technology is getting better, and this allows fans to watch all of the matches in their favourite team’s schedule, regardless where they may be. Also, there are more platforms than ever that track the statistics of the players. It’s a good time to be a rugby fan as the sport is continuously changing in new and exciting ways.