Purpose: To compare mechanical properties of overground sprint running in elite rugby union and rugby league athletes.
Methods: Thirty elite rugby code (15 rugby union and 15 rugby league) athletes participated in this cross-sectional analysis. Radar was used to measure maximal overground sprint performance over 20 or 30 m (forwards and backs, respectively). In addition to time at 2, 5, 10, 20, and 30 m, velocity-time signals were analyzed to derive external horizontal force-velocity relationships with a recently validated method. From this relationship, the maximal theoretical velocity, external relative and absolute horizontal force, horizontal power, and optimal horizontal force for peak power production were determined.
Results: While differences in maximal velocity were unclear between codes, rugby union backs produced moderately faster split times, with the most substantial differences occurring at 2 and 5 m (ES 0.95 and 0.86, respectively). In addition, rugby union backs produced moderately larger relative horizontal force, optimal force, and peak power capabilities than rugby league backs (ES 0.73-0.77). Rugby union forwards had a higher absolute force (ES 0.77) despite having ~12% more body weight than rugby league forwards.
Conclusions: In this elite sample, rugby union athletes typically displayed greater short-distance sprint performance, which may be linked to an ability to generate high levels of horizontal force and power. The acceleration characteristics presented in this study could be a result of the individual movement and positional demands of each code.