Limited research has compared the physical qualities of adolescent rugby union (RU) players across differing playing standards. This study therefore compared the physical qualities of academy and school Under-18 RU players. One-hundred and eighty-four (professional regional academy, n = 55 school, n = 129) male RU players underwent a physical testing battery to quantify height, body mass, strength (bench press and pull-up), speed (10, 20 and 40 m), 10 m momentum (calculated 10 m velocity x body mass) and a proxy measure of aerobic fitness (Yo-Yo Intermittent Recovery Test Level 1 IRTL1). The practical significance of differences between playing levels were assessed using magnitude-based inferences. Academy players were taller (very likely small), heavier (likely moderate) and stronger (bench press possibly large; pull-up plus body mass likely small) than school players. Academy players were faster than school players over 20 and 40 m (possibly and likely small), although differences in 10 m speed were not apparent (possibly trivial). Academy players displayed greater 10 m momentum (likely moderate) and greater IRTL1 performance (likely small) than school players. These findings suggest that body size, strength, running momentum, 40 m speed and aerobic fitness contribute to a higher playing standard in adolescent rugby union.
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