Rugby Strength & Conditioning for Half Backs

In last week’s instalment of the position specific strength training series we looked at the back row and second row positions. Up this week: scrum half and fly half. Using the same training principles as in previous weeks, I’ll be dissecting the specialised roles of each position and discussing my favourite strength training drills to raise power output in these skills.

rugby strength and conditioning

Scrum half and fly half demands

Much like last week, there is some scope for debate about just what skills a scrum half or fly half should be dedicating their training time to. My personal belief is that the most successful half backs earn their money by:

1. Kicking points with the boot (it is no coincidence that Daniel Carter and Jonny Wilkinson are two of the top scorers of all time)

2. Gaining territory with kicks out of hand (it is hard to win games when you are camped on your line and it is eminently easier to convert the set piece when you are close to the opposition line)

3. Passing the ball (out of hand the fly half and from the floor for the scrum half) to fully utilise the attacking talents of the backline.

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However there are likely to be differences in which on-field activities are emphasised for certain teams and players. This may be because you disagree with my philosophically. For example some may believe that the role of the scrum half is primarily to snipe around the fringes of the breakdown and to distribute the ball.

Alternatively you may wish to play to the strengths of an individual player, raising their power output in what they are already good at rather than trying to put a square peg into a round hole. An example that springs to mind are two scrum halves that I have worked alongside, namely Joe Simpson (London Wasps) and Tomas Cubelli (Los Pumas Argentina), who are very different players.

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Joe Simpson is known far more as an attacking scrum half, who excels at arcing runs, as shown in the video below:

Tomas on the other hand is regarded as a more tactical player who more utilises the box kick to pin back the opposition:

Two players in the same position, but a strong case for the different specialisation in their training. I will only be covering special strength training for the kick and the pass in this piece, but if you want to go down this road you can simply cherry pick other drills from elsewhere in the series or develop your own using the process described in parts 1 and 2.

Kicking

Obviously there are many different types of kick a half back may have to perform during the course of a match: grubbers, bombs, chips, box kicks, place kicks etc. All will involve slightly different demands in terms of the force the athlete has to produce, but the primary differences will be in timing and coordination. For this reason I have performed a general analysis of kicking and there should still be significant transfer from the exercise below and to all forms of kicking:

keir 1Research tends to show that the biggest determinant of kick power outside of technique is foot speed. That means the faster your foot is moving when it hits the ball, the greater your kicking range is likely to be, and the more accurate you can expect to be with your kicking over a given distance.

Because the load involved in kicking is small and the movement speed is high, you don’t need to use a large load when training to improve kicking power. Using an excessive load will change the mechanics and speed of the movement pattern beyond usefulness.

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The drill shares a near identical range of movement, movement speed and contraction type with a real kick, which should ensure a high degree of transfer from this drill to the field. Although this drill does not entail a degree of rotary stability at the torso as would be seen in a genuine kick, anti-rotational torso training should be present within all good general rugby strength and conditioning programmes so this base should be covered.

To perform this drill set up a band at hip height, choking it around a power rack or other fixed object and placing it around the hip of your grounded leg. Next step on to a small box and resist the band by keeping your glutes and hamstrings firmly contracted throughout the exercise. Attach 3-5kg of ankle weights to your other leg and move through a full range of movement at the hip, simulating the kicking action. Shoot for 6-10 reps per leg, then swap sides. Aim for 3-5 sets total with 3-4 minutes rest periods in between sets.

It is important to perform this drill on both legs even if you only kick on one leg. This is to prevent creating muscular asymmetries, which are a major red flag for injury. If you don’t have bands you can perform the exercise without one, but you’ll need to be mindful of keeping your grounded leg extended throughout the drill; hip separation is an important aspect of kicking. If you don’t have ankle weights you can easily make some up by tying a rugby sock filled with gravel or sand around your ankle.

Passing

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The passing action is reasonably easy to programme for. You need to be able to generate a lot of rotational force at high speed and coordinate the upper and lower body together. Depending on how you pass, the force contribution of the lower body can go up or down, but the torso and upper body are the main drivers of the passing action. My favourite drill to increase passing strength is a simple rotational medicine ball toss.

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Set up this drill with a 3-5kg medicine ball in an athletic stance (drop down as if you were about to smash someone in a tackle- that is an athletic stance) at 90 degrees to the wall. Wind up by dropping your weight into your far leg, dipping at your hip, knee and ankle and rotating your torso away from the wall. Then quickly reverse the direction, extending powerfully at your hip, knee and ankle, rotate your torso to the wall, and follow through by exploding with your arms. The most powerful throw will come when you transfer force up from the lower body to the upper body like a wave.

Shoot for 6-10 reps per side for 3-5 sets with full rest periods of 3-4 minutes each between sets. If you are looking to specialise in passing from the floor you can do this in training whilst adopting a lower, more split stance in your lower body. For standing passing power, perform the drill as shown in the video.

Next week we will be looking at special strength drills for the centres. In the meantime, if you’d like to give some feedback, leave your thoughts in the comment section below.

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