Sports Science, and the Importance of Recovery in the Game of Rugby

Irish Medic

From the Last Word on Rugby department.

Aches and pains, bumps and bruises, all a part of contact sport. In ball sports; and especially Rugby Union, athletes are candidates for common injuries and worse. So as the Women’s Rugby World Cup (WRWC2017) continues, the focus is on recovery through good use of sports science.

This factor is a critical focus today, because matches are spaced only four days apart. An opening WRWC2017 Day One match played Wednesday, is soon followed by Day Two of the tournament Sunday. The quick turnaround is why ‘rugby recovery’ and the use of sports science to assist in that process, is key to success.

Players today will especially acknowledge this fact, as they all combat the effects of a tough match on the field. The period of recovery that follows will affect the players ability to recover–thus their potential for re-selection. Nowadays, a speedy recovery period is critical for player, and team.

The balance from exposure to the risk of injury (for any athlete) and to a concerted management of the players recovery is exaggerated after contact sport.

if any sport can benefit from sports science, Rugby Union certainly can.

Importance of Recovery in the Game of Rugby

For the women who are participating in the WRWC2017, the schedule will hold no stops. Rugby is a game of full-contact. The impact is as vicious as any within the men’s game. The hits are just as hard. The tackles and demands on players are just as difficult as the men’s game is. But in 2017, the recovery timeline is limited.

Watching any of the six opening games, it was clear that this is not a practice session. The physicality was intense. Just as a World Cup highlights the intensity, then the resulting outcome is that players will feel the effects at the games end.

Impact speeds, collision forces–in a game where injuries are all too common–the women’s World Cup holds no bars. Add in the heightened pressure of national representation, and all players involved will feel the results the next day.

As a consequence, that is compounded in modern athletes who have developed more mass and muscle. With more focus on the physical nature of rugby, both men’s and women’s rugby players endure more injuries and require post-game treatment.

To that, sports science and medicine have also evolved to aid in the most critical element in the game today–rugby recovery.

Players Today Require Post-Match Care

The recovery process and science today is an ever improving area of the game. That is both preventative and holistic. It begins almost instantly that any player (of any form of the sport) comes from the field. Everything from compression to elevation, the techniques are pivotal in the recovery and continued play.

The importance of recovery follows the result obviously. A wining team; players might feel like they can celebrate and may over exhort themselves. A losing team, and players might be down and revert to an ice bag to ‘take away the pain’.

So over a tournament like a Rugby World Cup (WRWC2017), the outcome can often influence recovery.

Positive response to recovery in sport is more often psychological than as much physical. An athlete in ‘the right head space’ can usually believe in their recovery much better than a person who is suffering after a loss.

At times, alternative methods and exercises can assist. Pain is sometimes a barrier to recovery as well–if you feel bad, you may feel like you ‘don’t want to recover’ properly. So this is where the mental approach to sports science plays a big part.

Mental Approach to Sports Science a Beneficial Tool

Some players swear by it, and employ different methods and regimes of sports sciences. They use a technique, product or application they prefer. From stretches, to yoga or ways to include cardio vascular activities [rowing, or cycling].

The preferential use of medical tape and strapping, over ice bags and baths–it differs between the player. For all teams active at this Women’s Rugby World Cup 2017, they will have a preference to recovery, and will need their team to embrace that method.

If an example can be taken from this, in an interview with RadioSport, three-try heroine Seleca Winiata said post-match “We will look at the game review and make sure there are no injuries. Then look at our cohesion, but we’ve got to be in the right shape going forward.”

New Zealand v Wales - Women's Rugby World Cup 2017
DUBLIN, IRELAND – AUGUST 09: Selica Winiata of New Zealand breaks clear to score a try during the Women’s Rugby World Cup 2017 match between New Zealand and Wales on August 9, 2017 in Dublin, Ireland. (Photo by David Rogers/Getty Images).

By ‘shape’ she may mean as an individual, but also as a group. That ‘shape’ will likely be due to their recovery time and effort. And during a Rugby World Cup that is limited to only just a few days break, recovery is key.

Such problems in fact affect the women’s sport more predominantly, as the men’s Rugby World cup program allows more days for recovery. Asked ‘whats the recovery for you guys?’ Winiata replied “That’s what we are used to.

“It is about trying to recover as quick as possible”.

Short Window of Recovery Requires Modern Sports Science

Next game Sunday; so the players will say “that is what we need to do from tonight”. And while all the medical science can be employed toward that goal, the players uptake of that ideal is important. Step-by-step, all 23 squad members will be assessed. Areas like muscle tension and flexibility must be measured, to be sure of no ongoing issues.

Immediately upon when the players leave the field, a set program of stretching, cold water baths, foam rollers and rest begins. Winata spoke of ‘group pool sessions’ to aid recovery. This shows how to side can work together toward a singular goal–recovery.

For the Canadian team, a dip in the sea was both sports science, and a bonding session in one.

Winiata said “We’ve got to make sure all the girls are in the right shape”. And to that end, Winiata and her team mates start recovery as soon as the match ends. The common recovery practice is how the majority of teams operate. That includes swim sessions, or weight training’s – the active ingredient being a group mentality.

“All for one, and one for all”

Best Practice ‘Rugby Recovery’ Tips

• The oldest in the book: a simple cool down is essential for your body to wind down from a fast-paced match.
• Relax: dwelling on a game long after the whistle’s blown is bad for your mental state as well as your physical recovery.
• Compression clothing: some claims that wearing these garments after exercise can be effective in increasing circulation to the muscles, and perhaps even reducing muscle soreness.
• More exercise: you may not think it when feeling the effects of a tough match, but a light jog or run can help ease the road to recovery.
• Pool walks: spend some time in the pool has long been praised as an effective way to cool down post-match.
• Refuel: your body needs re-hydrating and protein after any match.

By attending to basic sports science principals such as these, teams involved in the WRWC2017 can be sure of quick recovery times; in the finite schedule available.

Another Test Match in Just a Few Days

There is no denying that that this World Cup schedule is difficult. Only four days between matches, it is a very tight window for the players to peak. One that needs to be closely managed, to support player both welfare and recovery.

In fact, the shorter the window between games, the more care and management that is required. So many rugby clubs/franchises and teams spend large budgets on the area of Sports Science. At this event, expect many teams to employ trainers, physiotherapists and key team members to ensure physical fitness.

Notably, rugby recovery is now a proven focus for the women’s game, and is certainly  heightened now during this years Women’s Rugby World Cup.

Sports Science Used Extensively at WRWC2017

Sports science has come a long way since the days lanolin and cold-compress. More so today, modern athletes; men and women, place a bigger focus on this subject than ever before.

Even as the clinical research of treatments such as, cold water immersion and anti-inflammatory gels is questioned among the sports scientists, athletes rely more and more on the treatment of their bodies during rugby tournaments. The proven science is relied on, and more holistic approaches are used individually by teams and nations.

The common recovery treatment of massage and relaxation is varied among teams. Some will ask athletes to undertake either rest, or some may look to stretching, yoga and more defined practices. What is agreed though, is that the participants will be asked to ‘peak’ toward the latter stages of the tournament.

Players who may now be in top physical shape on Day One, must be protected. During this years event, rest and rotation is a key tool. Don’t expect leading players to be involved for the full 80 minutes,; or they may be rested in pool play, before the knockout semifinals.

Modern Sports Science Used to Support WRWC2017

If one were to look at bad examples of where sports science were employed, then East Germany could be a fine example. The Eastern block nation set about with a systematic program to use science in sports to advance their society. It was criminal, in the way that women and men were exploited.

Today, modern sports science is used to promote sport. It is enabling young and older athletes to rise to their potential. In fact, players benefit more today from the use of sports science than ever before.

And with the Women’s Rugby World Cup being a showcase for rugby union, it is will see more emphasis placed on ‘rugby recovery’ and many adaptive programs that will be used in the sport commonly in the future.

With this years World Cup, it will see the integration of sports and science, to the benefit of rugby for both the women’s and men’s game in general.


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