By Tom Billups, C.S.C.S.
Rugby isn’t golf. I have uttered this short sarcastic sentence many times over the past two decades. What I am striving to articulate in not so many words is that rugby is a demanding contact field sport and is worlds apart from playing a round of golf. Yet players seem to end up competing as often as golfers. Because of this, when coaches construct annual performance plans promoting improvement (and minimizing the risk of injury) close consideration should be paid to fatigue. In this piece, we will continue the discussion of the importance of using a high performance approach to summer time planning.
It is appropriate to begin with acknowledging that every competitive rugby player wants to play rugby. I referenced this sentiment in a previous piece (Seasonality, May 30th, 2007). Yet high performance coaches understand that central to performance is fatigue management. Both individual and team fatigue levels, defined by number of minutes played, should be taken into consideration before making recommendations regarding summer off-season activities. Fatigue management is especially important because rugby rewards relentlessness, and in my experience playing rugby year round for several years, too much rugby can be a determent to performance.
For domestic rugby players who compete in a split season, or exclusively in fifteens or sevens, fatigue may not be a concern. But even for players who only train two nights per week, but compete nearly every weekend, a purposeful examination of when and why they are competing should be undertaken. A thoughtful evidence based approach to improving play is what we should all strive for.
Additionally, in this column (Summer Off Season Rugby Plans, June 12th, 2008) I discussed some of the sport science behind deciding when to, and when not to, compete. In that piece I suggest players and coaches consider what their goals are and how best to achieve them.
For some who are still working to acquire basic core skills, training and playing sevens over the summer is the right course of action. Sevens provides a good environment for players to experience dozens of touches of the ball while competing. Conversely, this isn’t the advice I would offer current USOC contracted athlete Colin Hawley. Hawley has been involved in every national team assembly, competing in both sevens and senior test rugby for over a year. I would counsel him to not touch a rugby ball nor put on his boots for several weeks.
In Colin’s situation (assuming he is injury free) a 10 to 14 day active rest period should be followed by an individualized strength training program to restore and improve his power output. No tackling or being tackled for at least sixty days.
Further, consider Ireland’s recent tour to New Zealand. New Zealand is perhaps one of the most challenging proving grounds in world rugby, even for world-class players. Fatigue management plays a vital role in experiencing success there at the end of a season.
The management of the Irish contracted players is impressive. Irish teams have won the European title five times in the last seven years. This type of sustained success, especially from a Country with a small player pool, requires exceptional planning and preparation. The Irish Rugby Union and its staff are to be commended for their work in monitoring playing time, injury management and return to play protocols. Central to this management is creating recovery periods and an off-season even when it doesn’t appear there is time for one.
At the end of the United Kingdom’s professional season, where first choice players might play 25-35 matches, Ulster and Leinster meet in the Heineken Cup Final. Nineteen of 29 man New Zealand touring squad were selected from these two high performing teams, so far, so good.
Ireland’s third test, a 60-0 defeat to New Zealand, is evidence that even with thoughtful planning, a match can quickly become one-way traffic if a team is too fatigued. For the Irish, the season became one match too many.
I encourage all players to put some careful thought into what they do this summer. Remember, rugby isn’t golf.
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The entire All Blacks apparel line has been updated for 2013/14. Check out the New Zealand All Blacks polo.
The Nike Tiempo is a solid rugby cleat and one of few styles still made from full-grain natural leather.
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Wear the crest of the British and Irish Lions on your t-shirt. A great look for the summer.
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The USA Rugby Pro Alternate rugby jersey is perfect for any fan of the Eagles. Get yours to wear during the summer Test matches.
The NEW All Blacks 2013/14 jersey has arrived at World Rugby Shop. Dare to wear the colors of the All Blacks.