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Maximising performance in female rugby sevens athletes

Rugby Sevens is a field-based team sport contested by two teams of seven players over two 7-minute halves. Rugby Sevens matches are played in a tournament format with teams playing five to six matches over two to three days. Since the inclusion of Rugby Sevens in the Olympic Games, there has been a growing public and scientific interest in this game worldwide. Most studies to date in Rugby Sevens have been conducted with men, with limited research involving women. Therefore, this Thesis aimed to expand the body of knowledge relative to the women’s Rugby Sevens game, with a specific focus on how to maximise performance. Chapter 2 reviewed the existing female Rugby Sevens studies addressing the match demands (match running and physiological demands), anthropometric characteristics, and physical qualities. The review also highlighted the differences between competition levels and playing positions identified in the scientific literature. The existing research indicates greater running demands and intensities, but lower physiological responses in international than national matches. During international matches, backs demonstrated greater running demands, running intensities, and physiological responses than forwards. Overall, elite athletes were characterised by superior physical qualities compared with nonelite athletes. Furthermore, at the elite level, specific physical qualities differentiated forwards from backs. The literature review indicated that possessing well developed physical qualities could be beneficial for on-field performance in women’s Rugby Sevens. In Chapter 3, the association between physical-test measures with various match-running and match-action measures was evaluated in 30 women’s Rugby Sevens players representing five different New Zealand Provincial Union teams. There was good evidence of positive effects of many physical-test measures on match high-intensity running. Furthermore, there was some evidence of positive effects of speed and running fitness on match total running and high intensity changes in speed, and of negative effects of maximal strength and jump height on match total running and high intensity changes in speed. There were fewer substantial associations between physical-test measures and match actions, but there was good evidence of positive effects of squat and jump height on tries scored suggesting that enhancing players’ jump height and back-squat performance could increase the likelihood of match success in women’s Rugby Sevens. In Chapter 4, the effectiveness of two running fitness programmes on the locomotor profile of eight professional female Rugby Sevens players was investigated. Six sessions of short-interval high-intensity interval training (HIIT) led to possible improvements in maximal aerobic speed. In contrast, six sessions of long-interval HIIT had a possible negative effect on maximal aerobic speed. There were small positive changes in maximal sprinting speed following both programmes and small positive changes in the anaerobic speed reserve following the long-interval programme; however, all these changes were unclear and suggest a greater sample size is needed to get more evidence about the magnitude of these changes. Female physiology is unique and largely influenced by the menstrual cycle. The cyclic fluctuations of endogenous sex hormones across the menstrual cycle could have implications on sport performance; however, limited research exists on this topic. Therefore, in Chapter 5, the potential effects of menstrual phase on athletic performance in four nonelite Rugby players were investigated. At a group-level, possibly greater performances were observed in the countermovement jump, drop jump, and isometric mid-thigh pull in the late luteal phase compared with the menstruation, luteal, and follicular to ovulation phases. However, large variations in responses were observed at an individual-level, suggesting that accounting for individual responses during the menstrual cycle will likely be beneficial to training prescription and interpreting performance monitoring results. Overall, this Thesis expands the literature pertaining to the women’s Rugby Sevens game and adds new knowledge to practitioners looking to maximise their athletes’ performance.
Type of thesis
The University of Waikato
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