Swansea sports and exercise science graduates prepare national teams for the Rugby World Cup

Five of the twenty teams preparing for this September’s Rugby World Cup - Wales, Scotland, US, Georgia and Russia - are benefiting from the expertise of six Swansea sports science graduates who have secured posts within the national squads.

The ninth Rugby World Cup takes place in Japan, starting on 20 September.  It is the first time that the tournament has been held in Asia, with twenty teams competing for the Webb Ellis cup.   

The six former Swansea students – listed below - are all experts in the field of elite athlete performance and preparation.  Their roles and teams may differ, but all are working to get their players performing to the maximum when they take to the field in the world’s most important rugby tournament.

Sports and exercise science at Swansea University is ranked top in the UK for graduate prospects by the 2019 Complete University Guide.   The department is also ranked 5th in the UK for research impact. 

Rugby World Cup Picture:  the Webb Ellis trophy, awarded to the winner of the Rugby World Cup.

Professor Liam Kilduff, Elite and Professional Sport Research Group lead for the A-STEM research unit at Swansea University, said:

“Having so many of our sports science alumni working to prepare players for the upcoming Rugby World Cup is a testament to the high-quality education and training they receive here at Swansea University.  It shows why we are top in the UK for graduate prospects.

We achieve this by ensuring the teaching on our degrees – undergraduate and postgraduate - maps onto the key challenges facing our industry.  We also ensure our research is focused on answering the key performance questions which we establish in conjunction with our industry partners.  This approach is why we were ranked 5th for research impact in the last research excellence framework exercise.” 

From Swansea to coaching at the Rugby World Cup: meet our Sports and Exercise Science graduates

Huw Bennett, Assistant Strength and Conditioning Coach, Welsh Rugby Union 

400 x 459“This will be my fifth Rugby World Cup (3 as a player and 2 as a coach).  I joined the National Team coaching set-up shortly after retiring from professional rugby.

Swansea University helped me during my studies and playing career by being flexible with timings of lectures and assignments, especially when playing in my first World Cup during my final year, which is something that I am very grateful for. 

Our training camps have started and we will soon spend 15 days in Switzerland at an altitude camp. We will live at altitude, above 2400m, to obtain the natural adaptations associated with altitude training, and train below 900m so the intensity and volume of training won’t be compromised.

We return to Cardiff for two friendly games against England and two against Ireland.  We will have one last training camp in Japan to help with the acclimatisation of what we are expecting to be a very hot and humid environment.”

Mark Bennett, Head of Performance, Russia Rugby

400 x 363"Planning and application of sport-specific training for the Russian national team is central to the role, but it also involves educating coaches in the professional domestic teams, and designing a programme for the national academy to be run from the Olympic training centre at Sochi.

I am currently completing a research masters at Swansea.  I have had a strong relationship with the Elite and Professional Sport Research Group since 2003.  The department has been central to the design of my physical testing program.  They have been great sounding boards when I have needed expert opinions.   

This will be the third Rugby World Cup I have been involved in.  I was lucky enough to play in 1995 and was also involved in a coaching capacity with Wales in 2007.  My focus will be simply on Russia playing to the best of their ability and hopefully making Russian people proud of their team.”

Huw Bevan PhD, Head of Strength and Conditioning with the USA team

400 x 514“My role is to ensure that our players are prepared to tolerate the physical demands of elite international rugby, and are equipped with the physical attributes required to consistently compete and win against the top teams in the world.

My PhD focused on power development in rugby players.

My ongoing affiliation with the department at Swansea provides an invaluable resource in terms of an appreciation of the changing demands of the game and the application of relevant research within our training.

I believe this relationship and the support it provides will accelerate our development and make a positive contribution towards the achievement our performance goals.

In terms of RWC, I am looking forward to competing against some of the top teams in the world, visiting a country I have never been to and experiencing the Japanese culture and cuisine.”

Ben Essenhigh,  Assistant Strength & Conditioning Coach, Georgian National Rugby Team

400 x 461“My main role in the team is to support the development of field achievement through the collection, analysis and interpretation of training data, obtained from GPS tracking and other measures of performance.

Assessing neuromuscular function in biomechanics, and strength and conditioning laboratory sessions, prepared me for the wide range of physiological tests that are carried out during the national team’s training week.

I’m looking forward to seeing how the team pulls together during the tough preparation period leading into the competition. Leaders of the High Performance Team have been working extremely hard planning this phase of the campaign and it’s exciting to be part of this process.

Without the links between Swansea University and the Georgian national team I wouldn’t have had this opportunity.”

Lee Melotti, High Performance Intern, Georgia National Rugby Team

400 x 421“I’ve been Assistant Sport Scientist and Strength & Conditioning Coach to the Senior Squad, and Lead Sport Scientist for the Elite U20s in preparation for the Junior World Cup 2019. 

The content and practical application in the S&C and physiology modules provided a sound base of physiological assessment, effective strategies for physical preperation and statistical analysis techniques to interpret data in elite performance environments.

As the Rugby World Cup nears, I’m excited to lead the performance programming for a select number of squad players. 

It’s an opportunity to work with some of the most elite technical and tactical rugby coaches in the world, as well as area-leading performance scientists.” 

(not pictured: Mr. Edward Tooley, Lead Nutritionist, Scottish Rugby Union)