Physiological and kinematic data were collected from elite under-19 rugby union players to provide a greater understanding of the physical demands of rugby union. Heart rate, blood lactate and time-motion analysis data were collected from 24 players (mean +/- s(x): body mass 88.7 +/- 9.9 kg, height 185 +/- 7 cm, age 18.4 +/- 0.5 years) during six competitive premiership fixtures. Six players were chosen at random from each of four groups: props and locks, back row forwards, inside backs, outside backs. Heart rate records were classified based on percent time spent in four zones (>95%, 85-95%, 75-84%, <75% HRmax). Blood lactate concentration was measured periodically throughout each match, with movements being classified as standing, walking, jogging, cruising, sprinting, utility, rucking/mauling and scrummaging. The heart rate data indicated that props and locks (58.4%) and back row forwards (56.2%) spent significantly more time in high exertion (85-95% HRmax) than inside backs (40.5%) and outside backs (33.9%) (P < 0.001). Inside backs (36.5%) and outside backs (38.5%) spent significantly more time in moderate exertion (75-84% HRmax) than props and locks (22.6%) and back row forwards (19.8%) (P < 0.05). Outside backs (20.1%) spent significantly more time in low exertion (<75% HRmax) than props and locks (5.8%) and back row forwards (5.6%) (P < 0.05). Mean blood lactate concentration did not differ significantly between groups (range: 4.67 mmol x l(-1) for outside backs to 7.22 mmol x l(-1) for back row forwards; P < 0.05). The motion analysis data indicated that outside backs (5750 m) covered a significantly greater total distance than either props and locks or back row forwards (4400 and 4080 m, respectively; P < 0.05). Inside backs and outside backs covered significantly greater distances walking (1740 and 1780 m, respectively; P < 0.001), in utility movements (417 and 475 m, respectively; P < 0.001) and sprinting (208 and 340 m, respectively; P < 0.001) than either props and locks or back row forwards (walking: 1000 and 991 m; utility movements: 106 and 154 m; sprinting: 72 and 94 m, respectively). Outside backs covered a significantly greater distance sprinting than inside backs (208 and 340 m, respectively; P < 0.001). Forwards maintained a higher level of exertion than backs, due to more constant motion and a large involvement in static high-intensity activities. A mean blood lactate concentration of 4.8-7.2 mmol x l(-1) indicated a need for 'lactate tolerance' training to improve hydrogen ion buffering and facilitate removal following high-intensity efforts. Furthermore, the large distances (4.2-5.6 km) covered during, and intermittent nature of, match-play indicated a need for sound aerobic conditioning in all groups (particularly backs) to minimize fatigue and facilitate recovery between high-intensity efforts.