Rugby: What it takes to make a Springbok!


In this series, the SSISA Rugby Performance Society looks at what it takes to make a Springbok. Data from Springboks (2003 to 2018) will be used to gain insights into what is needed to play at that level. We will then go further to look at how this can be used to guide player development.

The Rugby Union is divided into two main groups of players on the field which are the forwards and the backline players. Traditionally the forwards and the backline players have different physical attributes. The BokSmart initiative identified the physical characteristics needed to play safely at each level of the sport. Players are required to meet these set standards before progressing to the next level of play and testing must be conducted by official institutions like the Sports Science Institute of South Africa (SSISA).

Examples of tests include:

  • Height,
  • Weight,
  • Body mass index,
  • Body fat percentage,
  • 1 repetition max (1RM) bench press (for muscular strength),
  • 1-minute push up test (for muscular endurance), and
  • Beep test (for cardiovascular fitness).

The standards are based on data collected from regular testing of players and are specific to each position (e.g., front row, locks, loose forwards, inside backs, and outside backs). Position-specific data (e.g., figure below) and standards are important given the unique physical demands of each position on the field. Regular body composition, anthropometric and fitness testing takes place out of season, in order to prepare players for the upcoming seasons. The results from these tests inform periodisation plans by identifying areas that need attention in strength and conditioning, and how this information can contribute to improved training programmes and strategic athlete management for coaches in the sport of Rugby.

The above mentioned types of tests could be conducted by registered biokineticists or sport scientists and could be done at any level of participation, especially for the more serious academies/clubs/schools that aim to specialise in rugby.

rugby performance Society

The current South African Rugby players are being regularly tested as part of their placement on Team South Africa in order to identify trends in height, weight, body fat percentage and other various fitness measures. These measures are used for programme planning to create a baseline of results that are on hand for interventions from specialists and health professionals wherever necessary. If you are a hopeful for SA Rugby, and would like to join the team one day, getting a greater understanding of your body composition, anthropometric and fitness data will assist you to re-shifting training focus areas and lifestyle management accordingly, in the same way our Springboks do.

The pursuit of excellence is often underscored through having better insights into player data, and that this information can be useful for clubs and academies to have on hand for annual reporting and planning. The ACSM’s (American College of Sports Medicine) normative data is used as a backdrop for comparison in order to gauge if players/athletes meet the scores for various tests, and in our series for Rugby Performance Society, you will receive more information about Periodisation, Strength and Conditioning, Injury Prevention and Boksmart in the future.

To bring you the most evidence-based and cutting information in the fields of sports and exercise science and health, SSISA works alongside the UCT Research Centre for Health through Physical Activity, Lifestyle and Sport (HPALS) to disseminate the latest research.  HPALS research focuses on optimizing human performance and promoting health and well-being through physical activity, sports participation, healthy eating and good sleep hygiene.  Their work begins at the DNA, to the human performance laboratory and ultimately to the community.

SSISA exists to translate, simplify and embed science in sporting and health practice. SSISA has developed the Rugby Performance Society with the aim of providing best practice insights that positively impact athletes, coaches, teams and organisations.

Should you be looking for more information on this please get in touch with Cleo Pokpas at [email protected]

Yours in Sports Science,

The Rugby Performance Society

Article Written by Warwick Cross, senior biokineticist at the high performance centre at the Sports Science Institute of South Africa (SSISA).