drawings of muscles and exercise apparatus

Saturday, July 03, 2010

Are the Wallabies being properly conditioned for the Tri Nations Tests?

A characteristic of the Deans era Wallabies is their seeming inability to sustain their performance over the full 80 minutes of a game. This raises the question of whether their training methods are appropriate for the intense physical demands of modern international rugby. In short, is there enough emphasis on strength training?

It is difficult to draw any firm conclusions from the team’s patchy performances in the June Tests as quality of the opposition and the effects of long distance travel were complicating factors. A more valid measure is how the team has performed against its closest neighbour. In contests between Australia and New Zealand distance travelled is not really a relevant factor and both nations always endeavour to select their strongest team, so these matches provide an ideal environment to search for consistent patterns evident over a number of matches.

In the ten Trans-Tasman Tests prior to Robbie Deans assuming control the Wallabies led at half-time in 3 matches, were level in 2 matches and were behind in 5 matches. In the second half the Wallabies outscored their opponents 4 times, scored equal points once and were outscored 5 times. Overall they won 3 games and lost 7.

There have been 8 Wallabies-All Blacks games since Deans has taken over. During this period the Wallabies won an impressive 6 out of 8 first halves, but lost 7 out of 8 second halves and 7 out of 8 matches! The one time when the Wallabies won the second half and the match was in July 2008, when Deans and his assistants had just taken over. Since then the team has lost every second half and every match.

On June 28 the Sydney Morning Herald ran an article titled, “Don't despair - fitter Wallabies might rise from last in Tri Nations rankings”. The author, Spiro Zavas, wrote:

“It is an open secret that many Waratahs and Brumbies players shirked their full training obligations in the Super 14. An unfortunate feature of the Wallabies, this season and last season, has been the way they have faded in the second half of Test matches. A fitter Wallabies team might convert those half-time leads to full-time victories.”

To address this problem “the Wallabies conditioning coach will monitor the entire squad with GPS tracking devices that will record the intensity of their training.” Distance covered is hardly an appropriate measure of intensity given that rugby players spend much of a training session in prolonged static physical engagements. But having been labelled “shirkers” it is totally predictable that the players will run themselves into the ground to impress their masters.

Unofficial feedback from Wallaby training in the lead-up to the Tri Nations is that the players are running hills three times a week as well as having forwards running 100 metres 10 times with a 20 second rest between and 200 metres 10 times with a 20 second rest.

So the overwhelming emphasis appears to be on trying to improve aerobic fitness which ignores the fact that rugby is a strength-oriented sport, certainly the most strength-oriented of all the football codes. Players need to have a solid strength base to be able to compete for 80 minutes.

Traditionally Australian rugby has placed less emphasis on strength and physicality than any of the other major rugby countries, and it appears that this has become more pronounced in the Deans era. Rather than pursuing max strength the Wallabies’ weights sessions have reportedly seen a heavy focus on bar-speed routines using loads as little as 30% of 1RM.

One of the enduring impressions of the 2007 World Cup was the ferocity of the Northern Hemisphere teams at the breakdown. It is probably too late to do much about the upcoming Tri Nations, but unless the approach to training changes dramatically the Wallabies are likely to be physically overpowered in New Zealand next year.


Anonymous said...

It would be very concerning if such methods were being employed. The average fan could see that the Wallaby tight five lacks size, strength and power, although the scrum improved during the June Tests the other Tri Nations Teams will fancy their chances in that department. Clearly injuries have taken their toll but what is being done to ensure the young players being asked to step in are physically up to the requirements of playing international rugby. Having watched the dominance of the All Black forwards in last night's Test against the Springboks I am fearful that the Wallaby forwards will continue to struggle against their Tri-Nations counterparts.

Bruce Ross said...

Thanks, Anonymous. The fact that "the Wallaby tight five lacks size, strength and power" is a matter for concern but the same observation could be made about the other ten players in the team.

Last night's Test was a warning of just how high the All Blacks have now raised the bar.