English-based referee JP Doyle – the Dubliner who has been contracted full-time by the RFU since 2010 – has shed light on how much the demands on an official’s fitness have increased during his decade officiating in the Gallagher Premiership.

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Doyle, who first became a referee in 2002, has officiated in Premiership finals, Six Nations championships and World Cups, turns 41 in August and he revealed on The Lockdown, the RugbyPass pandemic interview series, just how much more ground he and his fellow officials now cover compared to ten years ago. 

Speaking with Jim Hamilton, the ex-Scotland and Saracens second row with whom he would have had on-pitch dealings with, referee Doyle explained: “The game is now so quick. When I started in the Premiership in 2009, I guess I covered about four-and-a-half kilometres in a game. 

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RFU referee JP Doyle guests on the latest edition of The Lockdown, the RugbyPass pandemic interview series

“Now there are games where I have broken the 10kms barrier. I’ve only done that one or two times but you can cover 10kms in a game. The stoppages are now longer in a game but the ball in play is higher so you get less plays in a game. 

“Maybe there used to be 150 plays in a game but now people knock it on less, there is better continuity, so maybe there are 80 plays in a game but the ball in play has gone up. So you can easily have five or six 20, 30 phase (plays) in a game. 

“The way players move nowadays, they do a lot of dropping back, stay in pods, stay in position. They actually don’t run that much more than they used to. But if you move the ball across the pitch like at Gloucester or even an England – look at how much England use the kick pass, for example – you have to cover that distance so it might be just running across the pitch, not up and down it, but you can cover very big distances. 

“Now if you are fatigued at any stage you’re going to make bad decisions… the fitness now is huge. I’m a bit of a CrossFit lifter so I would do CrossFit every day and I would do a Watt bike or a run or a sprint session or some sort of resistance work on top of that. I would do two sessions a day six times a week and then one big session a week. I would try and do between nine and twelve hours of training a week, so about 50 hours a month is what I would allocate myself for.”

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Asked who are the fittest referees on the RFU’s books, Doyle included himself in a top-five that can chalk up impressive times for the infamous bronco shuttle running challenge.  

“There is a group at the top and we have all got our different strengths depending on what activity you put us in. You have Christophe Ridley, Tom Foley, Karl Dickson, myself and Craig Maxwell-Keys would probably be the five that are fittest and can run good bronco times. 

“We’re not Beauden Barrett, running 4.10, but some of the guys would break 4.30. Christophe Ridley would run 4.20, maybe a bit better. Craig Maxwell-Keys the same,” he said before naming some players whose engines most impress him.  

“I’m always so impressed with your really big guys, your Makos, the Marlers, your Ellis Genges, your Kyle Sincklers who have this unbelievable repeatable engine for 60 minutes in a game, but not only that but week to week to week.

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“They can play against Saracens one week and against the All Blacks the next and then go out and play Toulouse two weeks later and really play 60 (hard) minutes of all those games… I’m in the game a long time and I’m shaking my head going, ‘Oh my lord, with some of the contacts’. 

“Each year it steps up. The players aren’t getting so much bigger, but how hard they hit each other gets bigger and bigger.”

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