Rugby union enjoys worldwide popularity, but there is a lack of comprehensive research into the anthropometric and physiological characteristics of its players and the demands of the game, particularly at the elite level. One of the possible explanations for this is that the sport has previously been primarily concerned with the aspects of skill related to the game, rather than the physical and physiological requirements. However, with the increased physiological demands being placed on the elite players (using the British Isles as an example), with the recent introduction of professionalism, regional championships, the World Cup and major tours, information about the demands of the game and the assessment of, and methods of improving, the anthropometric and physiological characteristics of its players, are of paramount importance. Match analysis has indicated that rugby is an interval or intermittent sport and players must be able to perform a large number of intensive efforts of 5 to 15 seconds' duration with less than 40 seconds' recovery between each bout of high intensity activity. These observations, together with the metabolic responses during the game, give some insight into its physiological demands and are a prerequisite in the development and prescription of training programmes by coaches in preparing individual players for competition. The results from studies reporting the anthropometric and physiological characteristics of rugby union players observed that these individuals had unique anthropometric and physiological attributes which depended on positional role and the playing standard. These have important implications for team selection and highlight the necessity for individualised training programmes and fitness attainment targets.