Rugby Player

The Job and What's Involved

As with any professional sport, only a small number make it to the top as a rugby player and most are spotted at an early age playing for their school, junior club side or county development squad.

In the UK there are two types, or codes, of professional rugby: rugby union and rugby league. Rugby union is played professionally across the UK, while rugby league is only played at this level in England, with most teams based in the north.

Once a player has been offered a professional contract by a club, their week involves a mixture of training and match preparation.

Training sessions are taken by a team of specialist coaches and involve:

Physical Training - such as sprints, weights and general fitness work.

Technical Training - developing individual skills and team moves.

Tactical Training - watching videos of past games and analysing future opponents to assess their strengths and weaknesses.

They may also spend time with:

  • A sports nutritionist who advises them on diet.
  • A sports physiotherapist to treat injuries.
  • A sports psychologist to help them prepare mentally for matches.

Leading players may also compete for their country and will need to train and prepare for matches with national team coaches.

Some players may also be involved in media work for television and radio, and in community work for the club, such as helping to coach young people.

Rugby players train most days except on match days. Training usually takes place in the morning, and occasionally in the afternoon as well.

Players spend time training outside at the club's training centre or academy, and in gyms, swimming pools and indoor sports halls.

Matches usually take place at weekends or on weekday evenings.

The rugby union season runs from September to May, whereas the rugby league season runs from February to September.

A great deal of time is spent travelling to events, sometimes abroad and often requiring overnight stays.

In rugby league there is a limit to the amount a club can pay on salaries each year. A newly signed professional will earn around £20,000, rising to around £40,000 with experience.
In rugby union, the highest wage at an academy for a player with a professional contract is £20,000 a year, while the average for a Premiership player is £70,000.

Getting Started with this Career Choice

There are limited opportunities to break into professional rugby, and only around ten per cent of those who are recommended by scouts succeed at the highest level.

There are around 2,000 full-time professional rugby players in the UK. Many more play at a semi-professional or amateur level.

In England there are 12 professional rugby union teams that make up the Premiership, while a handful of professional teams also compete in Division One.

There are 12 teams in the rugby league Super League, and a number of professional teams also compete in the National League.

Education and Training

There are no set academic entry requirements to become a rugby player.The key necessity is to possess an outstanding talent for the game.

The normal route into the game is to be spotted playing as a junior, and then be invited to train or take up an academy position (rugby union) or scholarship at a professional club (rugby league).

In England there are 12 regional academies, each linked to a Premiership side, plus one at Harlequins in London, and another covering the south-west of England. There is also a national academy for an elite group of young players with the potential to play for England.

Each academy takes on around 20 new players a year, of which just two or three will become professional. Academies aim to develop rugby excellence in boys aged 16-21, with a club likely to offer a professional contract around the age of 18 to players with the potential and right attitude.

Academies also place great importance on preparing players for the time when they stop playing rugby at the top level, encouraging them to gain extra qualifications. Most rugby careers come to an end as players reach their early 30s.

All the academies have developed strong links with local colleges, where trainees are encouraged to continue their education.

Rugby league clubs offer scholarships to young players aged 13-16 whom they have identified as having the potential to play professionally. These are one-year rolling contracts.

The trainees continue their education and play for their school and club sides, but also spend time developing skills at the professional club.

When the player is 16 he can decide to stay with the club, if they have made him an offer, or take up any other offers of a professional contract from elsewhere.

A number of colleges offer qualifications such as a National Diploma in rugby studies and an NVQ in coaching, teaching and instruction in rugby union. These are more suitable for individuals wishing to teach and coach rugby and do not provide a route to a career as a professional player.

A number of grant and scholarship programmes may be available. Candidates should check with the organising group for specific application procedures.

Programmes include:

The Talented Athlete Scholarship Scheme (TASS) - designed to make it easier for young people in England to pursue sporting careers after leaving school. To be eligible, young athletes must be nominated by one of the 47 sports governing bodies that are backing the scheme. Further details may be found at

A Few More Exams You Might Need

Rugby trainees spend a set amount of time at the academy or at the professional club each week - for instance, they spend three hours at the academy five days a week. The rest of the time is spent on work experience, or in further or higher education.

All trainees, in both rugby union and league, are encouraged to continue with their education while receiving professional coaching and match experience.

At the start of the 2006/07 season the English academy system adopted the Advanced Apprenticeship in Sporting Excellence (AASE) programme, through a series of England Rugby Chartered Development Centres linked to each regional academy.

This provides a structured national training and development route leading to an NVQ Level 3 in achieving excellence in sports performance. It allows young people to work on improving their personal performance whilst working towards relevant academic and vocational qualifications. It also addresses issues such as working with others, career management and health and safety.

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Skills and Personal Qualities Needed

Rugby players should:

  • Have an exceptional talent for rugby.
  • Have a high standard of fitness.
  • Be motivated and dedicated.
  • Be self-disciplined.
  • Be able to cope with the pressure of important matches and with media attention.
  • Be able to work well as part of a team.
  • Have a professional attitude.
  • Have a competitive nature.

Your Long Term Prospects

Many players move into coaching and management roles at the end of their playing careers. There may also be opportunities to teach and coach rugby at schools or to work as a specialist sports development officer. Some may also enter refereeing.

It is possible to transfer between clubs, play for teams abroad and even transfer from rugby union to league or rugby league to union.

Each country has its own player association which provides advice and support to players who are coming to the end of their career.

To work with children or vulnerable adults, applicants need to undergo checks through the Criminal Records Bureau.

Get Further Information

Professional Rugby Players' Association,
7th Floor, Regal House,
London Road, Twickenham TW1 3QS
Tel: 020 831 7930

Rugby Football League,
Red Hall, Red Hall Lane,
Leeds LS17 8NB
Tel: 0844 477 7113

Rugby Football Union,
Rugby House, Rugby Road,
Twickenham, Middlesex TW1 1DZ
Tel: 0870 405 2000

SkillsActive, Castlewood House,
77-91 New Oxford Street, London WC1A 1PX
Tel: 020 7632 2000

The Talented Athlete Scholarship Scheme (TASS),
City Sports Centre, Off Northumberland Road,
Northumbria University, Newcastle upon Tyne,
Tyne & Wear NE1 8ST
Tel: 0191 243 7356

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