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16

Conditioning for Conditioning and Learning the Learnings

by Robertson April

There are a few things put to the sword in the NZRU report on the Rugby World Cup Campaign- the conditioning programme, our cluttered playing schedule and good use of the English language. Is there really such a word as ‘learnings’, let alone ‘material learnings’?

Amidst the management speak there is also a fair dollop of the bleeding obvious. It is not exactly a revelation that we lost in the quarter final because the French played with passion and commitment, we played like headless chooks and Wayne Barnes had a shocker.

The most interesting aspect of the report’s comments on the quarter final is the blunt assessment that “the team failed to ensure that the right decisions were taken at critical moments”. We do learn that the coaches sent the message out with 10 minutes to go to set up for a drop goal but the on-field decision was made not to do that. I wonder if that is because without Carter there was a concern there was no one on the field who could be relied on to execute that plan.

The report’s reflection on the lack of a drop goal somewhat bizarrely concludes that the players were “unaware of a vital piece of information- that the All Blacks had not been given a penalty in the second half and were therefore probably unlikely to get one notwithstanding their pressure, possession and territory Eh? I am pretty sure the players on the field would have had a vague idea that they had not had a penalty, but perhaps they thought that the laws of the game were still in place, and a penalty remained a possibility.

But in fairness the report is not really about the on-field loss, and it does throw up some interesting, and at times worrying observations. There is the clear view that there was too much emphasis on the Cup by the NZRU, and that future planning should be “lower key in terms of player and public awareness”. Hmmm, not sure how easy it will be to keep the 2011 Cup a secret what with all that stadium building and changing the school timetable and the like. But point taken, the All Blacks minds did seem to be in Paris for much of the year.

The conditioning programme is given the big thumbs down. Like Michael Cullen’s tax cuts the report indicates there are four pre-conditions for a successful conditioning programme. In the case of the Cup programme only one (the right players were targeted) of them was met. The other three; a personalised programme, specialist providers and doing the programme at the right time, were not. The lack of communication and integration with Super 14 franchises appears to have been a factor in all three of these.

It is just a little weird that Sky TV are referred to throughout the report as “News”, and that their comments on the conditioning programme have largely been withheld. It does make you wonder if they influenced the fact that players were rested at the start of the Super 14 when in fact they should have been rested at the end of the competition to get the recovery time right for the Cup.

The conditioning programme does give us the clear winner for most ridiculous line of the report. “It was not anticipated that the players would need to be conditioned for the conditioning programme”. Conditioning for conditioning, what is this a Fructus advertisement? This makes my head hurt, but I think I have worked out what conditioning for a conditioning programme might entail- playing rugby.

The most worrying bit of the report is the impact of our cluttered season on international players. The report says

Best practice across professional sport recognises the need to have a single season, some with multiple competitions. All enable athletes to prepare (pre-season), compete (in-season), recover and rest (off season). Unfortunately New Zealand rugby does not have a single season that enables the top players to have the time to complete these essential components”

Common sense, that. And, in a nutshell is the issue rugby needs to grapple with, lest we lose players to the more lucrative, balanced Northern Hemisphere and/or we burn out players so they can not perform when it matters. One hopes the recent think tanks are addressing this, and that “News” will not control whatever is the outcome.

But in the end, for what it is worth my view is that the combined effect of the rotation policy, the conditioning programme and the extraordinary emphasis on the Cup campaign meant that the All Blacks exploded like a shaken coke can in the first 20 minutes against Italy, and were flat thereafter. Having said that, I will now, officially, let it go.

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