A comparison of match demands between elite and semi-elite rugby league competition

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Journal Article
Journal of Sports Sciences, 2009, 27 (3), pp. 203 - 211
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The purpose of this study was to examine differences in physical performance and game-specific skills between elite and semi-elite rugby league players during match-play. Time-motion analysis was used to determine physical and game-specific skill match demands in 17 elite and 22 semi-elite rugby league players. Physical performance (time, intensity of exercise, frequency, repeated-sprint ability, and speed measures) and game-specific skill measures (ball carries, supports, ball touches, play-the-balls, and tackles) were recorded per minute of playing time. The main findings were that total intensity (elite: 108.9 ± 10.6 m · min-1; semi-elite: 102.3 ± 9.7 m · min-1), high-intensity exercise (elite: 36.7 ± 9.8 m · min-1; semi-elite: 29.6 ± 7.8 m min-1), mean playing speed (elite: 6.6 ± 0.6 km · h-1; semi-elite: 6.2 ± 0.6 km · h-1), and support play (elite: 0.29 ± 0.16 · min-1; semi-elite: 0.15 ± 0.09 · min-1) were all higher during first-half match-play in the elite than semi-elite players (P > 0.01). The elite players experienced decrements in most physical performance measures during the second-half of match-play (P > 0.01), which was not evident in the semi-elite players (P > 0.01). There were no differences in most physical performance and game-specific skill measures for the match between the two playing standards. These results show that while the two standards of competition have similar game-specific skills and physical demands during a match, there is variation within a match according to standard. Specifically, the higher physical demands placed on elite players during the first half could result in the earlier onset of physical fatigue towards the end of a match.
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