Wales has long been established as a powerhouse of international rugby. Currently ranked fifth in the world, Wales has a global reputation for producing some of the game’s finest talent.
As a Performance Pathway Sports Scientist with Welsh Rugby Union (WRU), Ciaran Miller works with the Wales National age grade development squads from U18 to U20. In his role, Ciaran is responsible for monitoring the progress of the best young players in Wales as they step up through the age groups with the aim of eventually reaching the senior squad.
“We monitor over 300 players from senior international to regional academy level on every training day,” Ciaran explains. “All information is monitored in the same way, using the same metrics to give consistency of data across training groups and compiled in a database.
“This enables us to directly compare training throughout our Pathway and club setups, allowing us to manage their training involvement to best progress them. Our alignment all the way through the Pathway means when a player comes to be considered for senior squad, we have years of historical data on the player’s development.”
Preparing for Competitive Demands
Ciaran and the rest of the performance team at WRU use Catapult technology to support the collection of that crucial information. The data is then used to inform key decisions and ensure that players are ready for the demands of competition at their respective age group levels.
“We use Catapult technology in every training session to monitor work completed, session intensity, duration, high speed distance and efforts,” says Ciaran. “We then database all the information and use it to guide our development. As we work with players over a relatively short time period (3-5 week camps), we must ensure we progress players through the camp to reach the volumes and intensities required for periods of competition.”
In preparation for the international training camps, the WRU also makes sure that players are monitored at club level to build a detailed picture of the work they are doing away from the national squads.
“We have 50 identified Pathway players who all have Catapult units assigned to them for the regular season. So when the players come to be selected for camp, we know their individual training loads and capacity. This means we can work with their regional clubs to guide their lead-in to camp and individually progress them to camp demands as required.”
The Benefits of Monitoring in Rugby
For Ciaran, the main benefits of using monitoring technology are in providing detailed feedback to coaches, rehabilitating players from injury, and guiding athletic progression.
“[Athlete monitoring technology] allows us to quantify the work we are doing, and to feedback to coaches on their sessions and delivery,” Ciaran says. “It allows us to know when to push and when to pull for each athlete to guide their athletic development. For boys who are returning from injury, we know the level their workload capacity needs to be and can measure and track their progress up to that.”
Identifying Key Variables
In terms of the variables the WRU focuses on in the data, all processes are designed to gradually progress towards–and ultimately beyond–previous competitive demands at each stage of their progression through the age groups.
“Primarily we are looking at total distance covered and session duration as a measure of overall load, then we consider high speed distance and even sprint distance for our quicker lads,” says Ciaran. “Our aim is to condition boys to be able to tolerate the work required at these speeds and progress beyond previous competition demands in the hope of having athletes with greater capacity for high speed and sprinting workload.
“We also look at speed exposures >90% max velocity and do our best to expose every athlete to this speed at least once a week to reduce injury risk factors. We know that there are steps up in intensity of match play through all the age groups and levels, so one of our goals is to expose athletes to those higher intensities and workloads progressively through our Performance Pathway.”