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John Plumtree

Pre-season a tough grind


The Hurricanes at pre-season training The Hurricanes at pre-season training

A lot of planning and hard work goes into the pre-season, writes Hurricanes assistant coach JOHN PLUMTREE.

The Hurricanes players and coaches got together on Monday, 6 November last year for a three-week pre-season training ‘block’. We then had two weeks off over Christmas and New Year before gathering again on Monday, 8 January for a four-week ‘block’.

In the three-week block there was a big focus on conditioning and getting the players’ running metres up. There was also weight training, core work, gymnastics and boxing – a real mixture.

That three-week block is all about getting the players fit and in shape, so the conditioning coaches dominate that period, and us other coaches work in our skill blocks when we can.

We’ve got new players coming into the environment who need to learn about our systems, and while we try to put some of them into practice in that three-week period, we can’t get it all done.

Our biggest problem in the pre-season is probably that some of the new players aren’t as conditioned and fit as we would like them to be. The seasoned guys who have been with us for two or three years know what to expect, so they come into that first block in pretty good nick, because they know how tough it will be. They have a good fitness base that they maintain.

That first block is a pretty tough grind for the players, coming at the end of a long year. But we’ve found that as long as they get their rest and breaks from the game, they return mentally fresh and are quite excited about getting back into it again.

There is still a mental aspect to pre-season, though. We talk about motivation and what we are striving for, and what the players’ goals are in terms of their bodies and how much fitter and stronger we can get them. We want them to see some reward if they train really well.

We have to be smart when it comes to players’ training loads to avoid injury. When we think a player’s body is starting to creak we have to back off, lighten his load and bring him back when he is fresher.

All players are different. Someone like Brad Shields may be able to maintain a high load of intensity right through the three-week block, while a first-year Hurricanes player wouldn’t be able to cope with that load. We put the guys into groups so their training regimes are slightly different.

It’s very important for us that everyone keeps training, so the players have to be honest about how their body is feeling. At the end of every session, they have to mark off on a sheet, in categories from one to 10, how the session was for them. When they wake up the next morning the players use a cellphone app to indicate which areas of their body are stiff or tight, like calf muscles, lower back and shoulder muscles. They then go through a screening process when they arrive at the training base, which involves stretching goals they need to achieve, especially with their hip flexes.

We’ve had a great summer in New Zealand, so the heat has been an issue and made pre-season even tougher. We’ve put a massive emphasis on hydration and have educated the players on how to lose or maintain body weight.

During the two-week break over Christmas and New Year, the players have a programme to follow. It’s obviously not as intense as the previous three-week block. It’s more about maintenance, and involves speed and endurance sessions and a couple of weight sessions a week.

The All Blacks only joined us at the end of January when we went away for a week’s camp. That’s when we installed all our protocols and train as a full squad for the first time.

Our first pre-season match, against the Crusaders, was all about giving opportunities to the new players in the squad. The All Blacks and any other players carrying injuries or niggles didn't play. The second warm-up, against the Blues on 15 February, is about integrating the team that will potentially play in our first Super Rugby match, against the Bulls on 24 February.

However, a lot of the All Blacks prefer not to participate in that second warm-up, so we will bring them off the bench for the first Super Rugby game, or start them and bring them off after 40 minutes. It’s important to integrate them properly.

– This is an edited version of a column that first appeared in the February 2018 issue of SA Rugby magazine

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Photo: Hagen Hopkins/Getty Images

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