Judo. Rugby. Indoor sport. Outdoor sport. Compete as an individual. Play as a team.
Stark contrasts are evident when you compare these two popular sports. However, when you delve deeper, it’s clear that the two are more similar than you’d think. The similarities have not gone unnoticed by some of the world’s best rugby teams, most notably the All Blacks, who have incorporated regular judo sessions into their training programme as they aim to better themselves.
This ‘secret’ weapon is becoming less of a novelty and more of a norm, as rugby teams from club level right up to the international environment turn to judo as a means of developing their skills.
The crossover between rugby and judo is nothing new in Scotland, with teams at many levels having practised judo for a few years now, ranging from George Heriot’s rugby club to Glasgow Warriors and the national team.
As they prepared to head to Japan for September’s Rugby World Cup, the Scotland men’s team took part in judo sessions at JudoScotland HQ with Euan Burton MBE, who heads up the sportscotland institute of sport’s dedicated judo programme as national high performance coach.
Sport First caught up with Euan to discuss how he’s been assisting Scotland with their World Cup preparation during these sessions.
Euan said: “There are massive differences between the two sports, but when you look closer there are similarities in the philosophies of both: control of yourself and control or manipulation of your opposition.
“We do sessions designed around movement efficiency and utilise these workshops as a safe re-introduction to physical contact, especially during the rugby pre-season. The main focus is on making minimal effort, maximum efficiency .”
Scotland outside centre Pete Horne echoed these sentiments. He said: “It was tough, really hard work. Euan put the guys through our paces and it was good to get used to that contact side of things again, with your neck and your back and just being physical.
"We learnt a lot and there was certainly a cross-over with the contact side of the game.”
Euan, a former Team GB Olympian, world bronze medallist and Commonwealth champion who carried the flag for Team Scotland at the Glasgow 2014 Commonwealth Games, believes judo principles have a lot to offer rugby players by making a positive impact on the efficiency of movement, which in turn can help find the edge against an opponent.
He said: “What you see on the pitch, in terms of the physical confrontation, is usually not very subtle. There’s a huge element of physicality in terms of being stronger than your opponent in order to get control of the ball, or change the plan of attack.
“I’ve tried to express to the guys that even though there are times when this is still the case, there are opportunities during physical confrontation where they could apply skills where they think a little more about what they’re doing, using specific techniques that make them much more effective whilst using less energy at the same time.”
The similarities between the two sports have proved very useful for one former JudoScotland athlete. Rachel McLachlan was a successful judo player, competing for almost a decade at a high level until she made the transition to rugby just under two years ago. She quickly rose through the ranks until she made her full Scotland debut in November 2018 against Canada.
Rachel credits judo with helping the transition run smoothly. She said: “The biggest crossover for me is body control. In judo, this means creating opportunities from your own or your partner’s body position or momentum. In rugby it relates to body positioning or height in rucks, tackles and mauls, for example.
“Judo and rugby are both physically and mentally very challenging.
"One is fast-paced, quick and lasting just four minutes, whilst the other involves bursts of intensity and constant work rate for 80 minutes.”
It’s fair to say that this ‘sporting connection’ between judo and rugby is an exciting development, and Euan is optimistic that rugby could also benefit judo in Scotland. He believes that Scottish judo clubs that are lacking in physical preparation facilities could be helped by the fact that most Scottish rugby clubs do have their own in-house facilities.
He said: “Down the line, it would be great to establish mutually beneficial partnerships within communities whereby judo clubs run sessions for rugby clubs during their pre-season in exchange for the use of their physical preparation facilities. This is just one idea of how the connection between the two sports can be maintained.”
JudoScotland chief executive Dougi Bryce said: “JudoScotland is proud to be a part of this ongoing partnership and we wish the Scotland men’s team all the best for the upcoming Rugby World Cup in Japan.”