SciELO - Scientific Electronic Library Online

vol.19 issue1Monitoring stress level of Brazilian female basketball athletes during the preparation for the 2009 American CupAnthropometric and physiological profile of Portuguese rugby players - Part II: comparison between athletes with different competitive levels author indexsubject indexarticles search
Home Pagealphabetic serial listing  

Services on Demand




Related links


Revista Brasileira de Medicina do Esporte

Print version ISSN 1517-8692

Rev Bras Med Esporte vol.19 no.1 São Paulo Jan./Feb. 2013 



Anthropometric and physiological profile of Portuguese rugby players - Part I: Comparison between athletes of different position groups



António Miguel da Cruz-FerreiraI; Carlos Alberto Fontes RibeiroII

IM. D. at the Customized Health Care Unit of Mealhada - Mealhada, Portugal
IIM.D. and Professor of the Medicine School of the University of Coimbra - Coimbra, Portugal

Mailing address




INTRODUCTION: In rugby, each position has very specific and unique requirements, both anthropometric and physiological. Several studies have documented the significant differences in the anthropometric and physiological characteristics of athletes in the different playing positions. However, despite being common in countries where rugby is more popular, no studies seeking to investigate the anthropometric and physiological characteristics of the Portuguese rugby players have been published yet.
OBJECTIVES: To anthropometrically and physiologically characterize Portuguese rugby players, attempting to identify any differences between athletes of different positions and to compare the recorded results with similar studies.
METHODS: 46 rugby players from two teams competing in the senior male national championships were assessed. Athletes were grouped according to their positions on the field, as forwards (n = 24) and backs (n = 22). All athletes underwent anthropometric assessment with determination of height, body mass and nine skin folds. Out of these, forty also underwent physical abilities assessment which consisted in determination of speed, acceleration and maximal aerobic capacity. Statistical analysis was performed using the IBM® SPSS® Statistics v.19 and significance level of 5% was considered.
RESULTS: Forwards presented average body weight of 96.02 kg (+/-13.44) and 1.80 m (+/-0.06) of height, compared to 76.84 kg (+/-7.28) and 1.73 m (+/-0.06) height of backs. As for the physiological assessment, backs recorded better results. In the 10m test they only took 1.97 s (+/-0.20), while forwards spent 2.10s (+/-0.27). In the speed test, backs also spent 0.36 s less than forwards. Maximal aerobic capacities, weight dependent, recorded by backs (52.33+/-5.41 mlO2/min/kg) were also better than those determined for forwards (46.60+/-5.64mlO2/min/kg).
DISCUSSION AND CONCLUSIONS: In the present study forwards were significantly taller, heavier and had higher percentage of body fat than backs. They were also slower and had lower maximal aerobic capacity concerning their body mass. However, they had higher maximal aerobic capacity in absolute value and produced greater momentum. Differences between forwards and backs were consistent with the literature and related to the different roles in the game. Despite its intrinsic limitations, we believe this study is relevant and will promote further investigations about this issue. Similar but larger studies should be conducted in the future so that we can more accurately assess and characterize the Portuguese rugby players.

Keywords: football, anthropometry, physiology.




The majority of the team sports wishes the homogeneity of the athletes involved in the practice of the modality; however, in rugby, a much wider number of individuals, with physical constitutions and characteristics, may play in the same team1, since each position presents very specific and distinct requirements2.

There are in rugby two position groups with distinct and very specific functions. Generally speaking, the forwards are considered the "ball's conquerors", being involved in the ball dispute situations, both static and dynamic, having the need to develop and apply physical strength in the "melées", "rucks" and "mauls". On their turn, the backs are considered the "ball's users", being more involved in running and getting rid of marking situations3.

Many papers which aim to characterize the rugby athletes concerning their anthropometric and physiological profile are available in the literature and its majority points to the existence of significant differences between forwards and backs3-5.

The specialization of each position led to the identification of specific characteristics for them and crucial ones for better sports performance5, and this differentiation has intensified from the introduction of its professional status in 19953.

When compared with the backs, the forwards are taller and heavier athletes, with greater percentage off t mass, being also more endomesomorphic than the backs2,3,6-8.

Concerning performance in physical fitness tests, the forwards usually present maximum aerobic capacity (VO2max) (due to their body weight), time of running at ten and 30 meters and in agility tests worse than the backs3,4. When the VO2max is given in absolute value, this relation becomes reverse. The differences found may reflect the specific requirements of the optimum performance of the respective positions2,3.

Unfortunately, despite the massive research, it was not possible to find any investigation which tried to characterize the anthropometric and/or physiological viewpoint of Portuguese rugby athletes. Thus, the designing of this study seemed relevant.



To characterize from the anthropometric (weight, height, skinfolds and fat mass percentage),as well as physiological (acceleration, velocity, maximum aerobic capacity and linear moment) viewpoint the Portuguese rugby athletes.

To compare the results obtained by the athletes in the distinct position groups (forwards and backs), trying to identify occasional differences between these athletes, both from the anthropometric and physiological point of view.

To compare the results obtained with the remaining papers already published.



In this study, 46 senior male athletes of two teams which participate in the Portuguese rugby championships of the XV Honor League and the 2nd National League were assessed. The assessed athletes were grouped concerning their position on the field in forwards (n = 24) and backs (n = 22). All athletes were assessed from the anthropometric point of view; however, six athletes from the first group did not perform the physical tests for being injured.

All evaluations were carried out between December, 2010 and February, 2011, following the guidelines from the American College of Sports Medicine9. Firstly, in a room with controlled temperature, the anthropometric evaluation of the athletes was performed. Subsequently, in the game field, a set of physical tests was performed

The anthropometric evaluation consisted of the determination of height9,10, weight9,10 and nine skinfolds (bicipital, tricipital, subscapular, chest, midaxillary, abdominal, suprailiac, thigh and twin)9 of the athletes. Basedon the formulas provided by the ACSM, the fat mass percentage of the athletes was estimated9. The physiological evaluation consisted in the determination of the VO2max by the Luc Léger test11,12, of acceleration and velocity, through performance of 10 and 30 m running tests, respectively2.

Statistical analysis was performed with the IBM® SPSS® Statistics v.19 software. Normality of the distribution of the quantitative variables was assessed with the Kolmogorov-Smirnov or Shapiro-Wilk tests. In the descriptive analysis mean and standard deviation for the samples derived from the normal distributions were calculated, while for the abnormal distributions median and interquartile amplitude were determined. In the inferential analysis, Student's t test for independent samples were used in the comparison of quantitative variables with normal distribution between two groups; for abnormal variables, the Mann-Whitney corresponding non-parametric test was used. Significance value of 5% was considered.



The obtained results are summarized in tables 1 and 2. When the forwards and backs as groups are compared, statistically significant differences concerning body mass, height, body mass index (BMI) and fat mass percentage are identified.

The forwards were in average, heavier (96.02 kg ± 13.44), taller (1.80 m ± 0.06) and presented higher BMI (29.54 kg/m2 ± 4.17) than the backs (76.84 kg ± 7.28, 1.73 m ± 0.06 and 25.45kg/m2 ± 1.94, respectively). The mean of the sum of the nine skinfolds was equally significantly higher for the forwards (184.92mm ± 78.98) than for the backs (129.05 ± 45.14), which translated into estimation of fat mass percentage of 21.21% (±7.69) for the forwards and of only 15.71% (±5.1) for the backs.

Concerning the physiological evaluation, statistically significant differences were found in all the assessed parameters.

It was verified that the backs presented better results in the acceleration, velocity and agility tests, besides in the estimation of the maximum aerobic capacity concerning body mass, but producing lower linear moment and maximum aerobic capacity.

Thus, in the 10 m acceleration test, the backs spent a median of 1.97 s (±0.20) against 2.10 s (±0.27) from the forwards. The 30 m velocity test was concluded by the back athletes with mean time of 4.50 s (± 0.32), while the forwards spent 4.86 s (± 0.39).

Concerning the estimation of the VO2max, it was verified that the backs presented absolute median value (3.99 LO2/min ± 0.70) lower than the forwards (4.31 LO2/min ± 0.73). However, when the body mass of the athletes was considered, inversion of this ratio was observed, and the backs presented higher mean value (52.33 mlO2/min/kg ± 5.41) when compared with the forwards (46.60 mlO2/min/kg ± 5.64).

The results of the velocity test are translated in mean linear moment of 597.92 kg.m/s (± 74.99) for the forwards and only 504.54 kg.m/s (± 56.10) for the backs.



Rugby has become a very popular sport in Portugal and around the world. There is increasing attention from the media and the public which makes it more competitive and motivating for all those who are involved with it.

Considering the results obtained by the athletes of the different studied groups in the anthropometric and physiological evaluations performed, it seems clear that the classical differences presented between forwards and backs in the published papers over the last 15 years, essentially remain in the present study.

Concerning body mass and according to what has been verified in the remaining papers already published, we record that forwards presented body mass significantly higher than the backs. Nonetheless, the difference found between body mass of forwards and backs was, in the present study, lower than what was detected in the studies already published, including in the ones which involved amateur athletes4,5,13-15.

Concerning the height of the rugby athletes studied, it was verified that as presented in the literature, the forwards were taller than the backs4,5,13-15.

The forwards also presented significantly higher fat mass and skinfold values than the backs.

From the physiological point of view, we verified in terms of VO2max, that the forward athletes presented values significantly higher than the backs when these are absolute; however, when body mass is considered, an inversion in this ratio is observed, despite a significant difference kept between forwards and backs.

In this study it was verified that there were significant differences between forwards and backs concerning the results of the velocity tests, when the forwards were significantly slower. In the few studies where there was an attempt to characterize the capacity of acceleration of the rugby athletes, it was observed that the results obtained by forwards and backs were very similar4. In the present study, this relation was not actually verified, and the forwards presented significantly worse results in the acceleration tests.

The differences found, both on the anthropometric and physiological levels, between the forward and back athletes are connected with the different roles played by these athletes in the field. While the forwards have to apply their high body mass and strength in the ball dispute situations, the backs need to be faster to get rid of the marking and finalize the situations of territory advantage conquered by the forwards. Thus, it becomes an advantage to the forward athletes to abandon velocity and acceleration capacity over higher body mass and fat mass percentage which translate in advantage in the man-to-man dispute of the "melées", "rucks" and "mauls". On the other hand, the backs chose to reduce their body mass and maximize their acceleration and velocity capacity to be able to gain advantage in the unmarking, dribbling and ending of plays. The differences concerning VO2max, are also explained by the work performed by the athletes. The higher absolute VO2max value allows to the forwards an advantage in the continuous and prolonged effort situations in the ball dispute in static and dynamic phase16.

When the results of the evaluation performed with forwards and backs with other similar studies are compared separately, some important differences are found.

The forwards in this study were shorter than the ones in all the other similar studies published 4,5,10,13-15,17. Comparing the values obtained for body mass with the ones of amateur athletes in the studies by Quarrie et al.4 and Nicholas5, as well as the ones by Babic et al.13 and Elloumi et a.l10, we verified that the Portuguese athletes were heavier. However, when the studies of populations of higher or international competitive level were compared, we verified inversion of this relation4,17. Regarding body composition, and contrary to what was observed in the remaining literature, we only verified that the fat mass percentage of Argentinian and Brazilian athletes estimated by Holway and Garavaglia17 and Carteri et al.18, respectively, was higher than the one calculated to Portuguese athletes.

Concerning physiological evaluation, except for the maximum aerobic capacity of the forward athletes studied by Scott et al.14, as verified in the backs, and of velocity and linear moment calculated by Quarrie et al.4 for athletes of lower competitive level, all the result obtained by the forward group of this study were lower than the ones verified in the literature.

Speaking of the backs, we verified that these were shorter, heavier and presented higher fat mass percentage, when compared with similar populations of other studies already published 4,5,10,13-15,17.

In the physiological evaluation, except for maximum aerobic capacity of the backs of the study by Scott et al.14, all the results obtained by the group of backs of this study were lower than the ones verified in the remaining papers with similar characteristics already published. This statement is valid for the velocity, maximum aerobic capacity tests and linear moment calculation.

Despite the obvious limitations intrinsic to this first study, such as the low number of athletes evaluated and the fact that all of them belonged only to two teams, we believe this study is highly relevant and will encourage further investigation in this field.

Similar studies, but with greater dimensions, broader and with more human and material resources should be carried out in the future so that Portuguese rugby athletes can be more faithfully characterized and evaluated.

All authors have declared there is not any potential conflict of interests concerning this article.



1. Vodanovich I & Coats P, eds. New Zealand rugby skills and tactics. Auckland, New Zealand: Landsdowne Press; 1982.         [ Links ]

2. Quarrie KL, Handcock P, Toomey MJ, Waller AE.. The New Zealand rugby injury and performance project IV. Anthropometric and physical performance comparisons between positional categories of senior A rugby players. Br J Sports Med 1996;30:53-6.         [ Links ]

3. Duthie G, Pyne D & Hooper S. Applied Physiology and Game Analysis of Rugby Union. Sports Med 2003;33:973-91.         [ Links ]

4. Quarrie KL, Handcock P, Waller AE, Chalmers DJ, Toomey MJ, Wilson BD. The New Zealand rugby injury and performance project III. Anthropometric and physical performance characteristics of players. Br J Sports Med 1995;29:263-70.         [ Links ]

5. Nicholas CW. Anthropometric and physiological characteristics of rugby union football players. Sports Med 1997;23:375-96.         [ Links ]

6. Reilly T. The physiology of rugby union football. Biol Sport 1997;14:83-101.         [ Links ]

7. Canda Moreno AS, Cabanero Castillo M, Millan Millian MJ, Rubio Gimeno S. Perfil antropometrico del equipo nacional Español de Rugby: comparacion entre los puestos de juego. Med Dello Sport 1998;51:29-39.         [ Links ]

8. Tong RJ, Bell W, Ball G, Winter EM. Reliability of power output measurements during repeated treadmill sprinting in rugby players. J Sports Sci 2001;19:289-97.         [ Links ]

9. American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM). ACSM's Guidelines for Exercise Testing and Prescription, eighth edition. Philadelphia (PA): Lippincott Williams & Wilkins; 2010.         [ Links ]

10. Elloumi M, Courteix D, Sellami S, Tabka Z, Lac G. Bone Mineral content and Density of Tunisian Male Rugby Players: Differences Between Forwards and Backs. Int J Sports Med 2006;27:351-8.         [ Links ]

11. Léger LA, Lambert J. A maximal multistage 20m shuttle run test to predict VO2max. Eur J Appl Physiol 1982;49:1-12.         [ Links ]

12. Léger LA, Mercier D, Gadoury C, Lambert J. The multistage 20 meter shuttle run test for aerobic fitness. J Sports Sci 1988;6:93-101.         [ Links ]

13. Babic Z, Misigoj-Durakovic M, Matasic H, Jancic J. Croatian Rugby Project- Part I: Anthropometric characteristics, body composition and constitution. J Sports Med Phys Fitness 2001;41:250-5.         [ Links ]

14. Scott AC, Roe N, Coats AJ, Piepoli MF. Aerobic exercise physiology in a professional rugby union team. Int J Cardiol 2003;87:173-7.         [ Links ]

15. Quarrie KL & Hopkins WG. Changes in player characteristics and match activities in Bledisloe Cup rugby union from 1972 to 2004. J Sports Sci 2007;25:895-903.         [ Links ]

16. Deutsch MU, Kearney GA, Rehrer NJ. A comparison of competition work rate in elite club Super 12 rugby. In: Spinks W, Reilly T, Murphy A, editors. Science and football IV. Sydney: The University Press126-31:2002.         [ Links ]

17. Holway FE, Garavaglia R. Kinanthropometry of Group I rugby players in Buenos Aires, Argentina. J Sports Sci 2009;27:1211-20.         [ Links ]

18. Carteri RBK, Pinheiro E, Cunha G, Zapata K, Martins J, Lopes AL. Perfil antropométrico e fisiológico de jogadores de rugby. X Salão de Iniciação científica PUCRS, 2009.         [ Links ]


Mailing address:
Rua Principal - Paredes S/N
3020-285 Coimbra - Portugal

Creative Commons License All the contents of this journal, except where otherwise noted, is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution License