Shoddy con­di­tion­ing led to Boks’ down­fall

Ex-Springbok coach warns that train­ing in­ten­sity level is not suf­fi­cient

CityPress - - Sport - SIMNIKIWE XA­BAN­ISA sports@city­press.co.za

The abid­ing mem­ory of the Spring­boks’ loss to Wales – their third in suc­ces­sion on their tour of Europe, which fol­lowed their first de­feat to Italy the week be­fore – was how they were strolling from set phase to set phase, de­spite be­ing be­hind.

As the feigned in­juries and ex­ces­sive double-knot­ting of shoelaces drove the Welsh com­men­ta­tors up the wall, be­cause they could see de­lay tac­tics by a team that couldn’t live with the game’s pace, South African rugby’s great­est weak­ness, shoddy con­di­tion­ing, was laid bare.

It’s an is­sue that has been dis­cussed since 2014, when Heyneke Meyer was coach, and is a topic that is now up for fur­ther dis­sec­tion at the con­di­tion­ing ind­aba on Wed­nes­day.

Mark Steele, who was the Boks’ con­di­tion­ing coach when they won the 2007 Rugby World Cup, has not re­ceived a for­mal in­vi­ta­tion to the gath­er­ing, de­spite hav­ing sent off two unan­swered emails dur­ing the sea­son to Bok coach Al­lis­ter Coet­zee to out­line his con­cerns about con­di­tion­ing.

It’s a pity be­cause when Steele, who now heads his own con­di­tion­ing com­pany, was one of the last train­ers in charge there were no ques­tions about the Boks’ fit­ness.

We all used to laugh at Jake White’s bench press and ver­ti­cal-jump de­mands, but that is what sus­tained a team that some­times won games on 30% pos­ses­sion, mean­ing the strength of their dura­bil­ity showed through their de­fend­ing for 70% of the time.

“One of the things we did [with the Boks] was to set stan­dards for the group of play­ers we se­lected,” Steele ex­plained. “It’s im­por­tant to have checks and bal­ances.”

Steele said the main prob­lem with the Boks’ con­di­tion­ing was the in­ten­sity at which they trained.

“Con­di­tion­ing is im­por­tant so that you can op­er­ate at 95% in­ten­sity at train­ing, so you can do the same in a match.

“If you’re jog­ging and pass­ing at 60%, you can catch and pass. But you’re not put un­der pressure, in­ten­sity wise, to be able to ex­e­cute your skills at 95% in­ten­sity in a match.

“If you’re able to train at a higher in­ten­sity, it trans­lates into be­ing able to learn skills at a higher in­ten­sity.”

Steele said that when the Boks re­solved to work harder, they made the mis­take of thinking they needed to train longer and harder: “That’s when over­train­ing hap­pens. The cu­mu­la­tive ef­fect of that is the catabolic ef­fect, where the team be­comes de­con­di­tioned and loses their strength and power.

“That’s when the skills level drops be­cause they can’t train at 90% to 95% in­ten­sity, and skills and con­di­tion­ing go hand in hand. The Wales game was a great ex­am­ple of that.”

He said the only way South Africa could mimic the New Zealand way, was if SA Rugby and the fran­chises had an in­te­grated sys­tem.

“It’s in­cred­i­ble how well de­fined and spe­cific their [New Zealand’s] pro­grammes are. They pro­duce ath­letes that can put out per­for­mance on de­mand.”

He said an in­te­grated vision be­tween SA Rugby and its six Su­per Rugby fran­chises was a non-ne­go­tiable.

“Four years ago, I said to Heyneke Meyer that SA Rugby needs to have some­one who goes to the unions to say the game is mov­ing in a cer­tain way, and we need to fol­low cer­tain rou­tines to keep up. There hasn’t been a con­struc­tive thought about how we’re go­ing to ad­dress where the game is go­ing at na­tional level.

“The whole point to con­di­tion­ing is to get faster ath­letes run­ning at faster speeds for longer. We need a sys­tem where we say these are the 10 most im­por­tant ex­er­cises for our play­ers and the fran­chises to do so that ev­ery­one is on the same page.

PHOTO: STEVE HAAG / GALLO IMAGES

NO IN­VITE The former con­di­tion­ing coach and fit­ness in­struc­tor for the Spring­boks, Mark Steele (left), has not re­ceived an in­vi­ta­tion to the con­di­tion­ing ind­aba

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