SYDNEY :World Rugby are suggesting elite players have a maximum 15 minutes of full contact training per week as part of new guidance aimed at improving player welfare.
The global governing body issued the "contact training load" guidance on Thursday morning after consultation with nearly 600 players from 18 elite competitions around the world.
World Rugby estimates that up to 40per cent of injuries are sustained in training and the guidance aims to reduce the amount of time players spend in any kind of contact in preparation for matches from the current average of around two hours a week.
"A more measured and consistent approach to training will help manage the contact load for players, especially those moving between club and national training environments," the document read.
"The research supports minimising contact load in training, in order that players can be prepared to perform but avoid an elevated injury risk at the same time. The guidelines aim to help strike that balance."
World Rugby said the average full contact training load was 21 minutes a week with the guidance suggesting that should be reduced to 15 minutes across a maximum of two days, not including Monday and Friday.
"Controlled contact training", where teams use tackle bags and pads, should be limited to 40 minutes a week, the document suggests, while preparation for set pieces - the scrum and lineout - should last only 30 minutes over a week.
Australia coach Dave Rennie said he had not been consulted by World Rugby's researchers and wanted more guidance as to what constitutes "full contact". He also raised the concern that players needed to be primed for the physical demands of matches.
"You’ve got to make sure from a training point of view that we’re getting a conditioning load, a contact load into them so that A – they can deal with that on game day, and B – they’ve got the technique required," he told reporters.
"Obviously this focus around reducing injuries is important. I think the most important thing is ensuring our athletes have the skill-set and the knowledge to deal with the combat."
New Zealand coach Ian Foster gave cautious endorsement of the 15-minute rule but was also curious about World Rugby's definition of "full contact".
"Fifteen minutes I would say would be about right, gut feel," he told reporters.
World Rugby is also engaged in a wide-ranging study with New Zealand Rugby and Otago University aimed at understanding "nature and frequency of head impacts" in the game.
"This important body of work reflects our ambition to advance welfare for players at all levels of the game," said World Rugby chief executive Alan Gilpin.
"We believe that by moderating overall training load on an individualised basis, including contact in season, it is possible to enhance both injury-prevention and performance outcomes, which is good for players, coaches and fans."
(Reporting by Nick Mulvenney; Additional reporting by Ian Ransom in Melbourne; editing by Peter Rutherford)