Strength is absolutely necessary in the sport of rugby. According to John Pryor, All the skill and strategic preparation in the world will be useless in rugby, if you do not have the physicality and power to put those skills into action or harness that quick reaction thinking. This is not to say that proper technique is not important, but there is simply no getting around the fact that rugby is, in part, a strong man’s game.
It is no secret that rugby is an intense, full contact sport. When we see images of rugby players, we notice well defined, massive muscles. But, understanding what exactly is strength is a little more complicated than pointing to bulky muscle mass. Strength is better defined as the ability to produce a high level of force. For this force to be functional, rather than training a specific muscle to increase in size, the more effective rugby players will focus their training on functional movements that involve several muscles working together at the same time to produce a desired result. This way, as the muscles are strengthened, they are not restricted in their movements, which would eventually inhibit muscle flexibility and the utility of a player’s strength in the long run.
Even with functional strength training, there is simply no getting away from lifting weights if you want to see real results. Any rugby player working on strength training is not going to get very far without lifting weights. What is important to keep in mind in functional strength training, is that the lift movement should be structured in such a way that the weights are moved through a certain range of motion that can be repeated in short bursts. Studies have shown that testosterone levels are at their peak within 20 to 50 minutes of a workout, which means that strength conditioning should be structured to incorporate efficient movements in short bursts that are focused around a specific time period.
While strength and power are not the entire package of a top rugby player, all the speed and skill cannot overcome your opponent’s mass. Training for strength in rugby needs to be structured around specific functional movements that target specific muscle groups, rather than simply packing on mass for increased size alone.