JON CARDINELLI chats to SA Rugby head of athletic performance Aled Walters about the challenges the players will face during and after lockdown.
It’s been seven days since president Cyril Ramaphosa placed South Africa on lockdown in response to the Covid-19 pandemic. Over the past week, we’ve seen how players have adjusted to the reality of training in isolation.
It’s not yet known when or even if the Vodacom Super Rugby season will resume. And yet, players around the country have been instructed to keep up with their training programmes to ensure that they hit the ground running when professional sport eventually gets the green light.
SA Rugby magazine asked Walters about the challenges various teams – including the Boks – will face in the coming months.
Players are expected to follow a programme and manage their own fitness levels during the nationwide lockdown. Have you consulted with the respective conditioning coaches at the franchises – to prescribe a programme or to exchange ideas? How creative do you have to be in a unprecedented situation like this?
Players are well used to having an off-season at the completion of their playing calendar, and having to train by themselves. However, the real challenge during this period is retaining as much of their physical and physiological qualities as possible while remaining at home, and not having access to gyms or training fields.
That’s one of the real challenges for the strength and conditioning coaches at the franchises – to programme according to the players’ training direction and provide the necessary equipment for the player to be able to train. You have to be much more creative for the player living in an apartment compared to the player living on a farm.
Will there be a period of ‘catch up’ when the lockdown is over and players return to team training? How long would it take for players to regain the same level of fitness – as it was after seven rounds of Super Rugby?
The period of reconditioning will be dependent on how well players are able to train during the lockdown. If the players have minimised the fitness lost during the period, it’s just a case of getting rugby fit again.
Unfortunately, those players who have deconditioned badly during the period will require more time to get back into an appropriate playing state, and if they are not afforded a longer period of catch up, they will be at a heightened risk of injury.
This is why it’s imperative that players complete the required amount of work during this time, and do not treat it as an off-season break. The challenge will be to reintroduce the rugby-specific actions of contact, high-speed efforts, accelerating and decelerating, changing of direction and so on progressively while minimising the injury risk before playing again.
Will this have a knock-on effect regarding the Test season? It took 20 weeks for the Boks to get into the best possible shape in the lead-up to the 2019 World Cup final. Will it take some time for them to get back to peak fitness later this year?
It’s very hard to say. As I mentioned earlier, the better conditioned the players are on exit from lockdown, the better physically prepared they will be for any rugby, including Test rugby.
Perhaps the nations who do not have as strict a lockdown period as we have currently may benefit from the players being able to train on a field rather than in their garden? I think it’s too early to tell what effect this unfortunate period will have on the Test season.
Aled Walters was recruited by Rassie Erasmus in early 2018 and mandated to transform South Africa into one of the world’s fittest teams. Following the Boks’ World Cup victory in Japan last year, many of the players and coaches credited Walters for the significant role he’d played in an unforgettable campaign.
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