Coaches, not lim­its, should pro­tect play­ers from bru­tal schedule

The Daily Telegraph - Business - - Sport Rugby Union - Austin Healey

Coaches across the dozen Premier­ship clubs will now be deep into map­ping out how to man­age their squads given the high num­ber of matches over the next 10 weeks of ac­tion.

Within a 12-month pe­riod be­tween 1996 and 1997, I played about 50 games. I came home from the Bri­tish and Ir­ish Lions tour to South Africa, went straight to La Manga in Spain, and slept solidly for two days.

I re­mem­ber train­ing at Lon­don Ir­ish’s old ground at Sun­bury be­fore we left for the Lions tour, and my body just felt soft ev­ery­where. I said to one of the play­ers, it might have been Will Green­wood, that I could not ac­cel­er­ate or do things prop­erly. Your body al­most feels dead.

On the Lions tour it­self – if, like my­self, you were not first choice in the Test team – then there were no rest days be­cause you were play­ing mid­week games and then dirt-track­ing with the Test side as can­non fod­der, and you would end up train­ing more. The guys in the Test XV would come back from the Lions tour feel­ing fresh, whereas if you were on the bench for the first team and also play­ing mid­week, you ended up com­pletely ban­joed.

Le­ices­ter Tigers were also in­volved in ev­ery­thing that 1996-97 sea­son. We had a bru­tal win­ter, which meant that by the end of the sea­son with all the ear­lier post­pone­ments, we ended up with seven games in 21 days. I must have started five of them, nor­mally play­ing a full 80 min­utes. The last was an away match against Sale Sharks, where we ended up draw­ing 20-20 to qual­ify for Europe, hav­ing just lost to Brive in the 1997 Heineken Cup fi­nal. It cer­tainly took its toll.

This present pe­riod is go­ing to be tough on Premier­ship play­ers. What we might see is a dif­fer­ent style of play; less com­bat­ive. Peo­ple will stop car­ry­ing into brick walls and start look­ing for space. We are al­ready start­ing to find games speed­ing up, with play­ers, as Ed­die Jones rightly said, be­com­ing more in­stinc­tive.

The sides that can play at that higher tempo for longer, the bet­ter run­ning teams, I think will do pretty well. And about five years af­ter I first men­tioned it, every­one has picked up on the time it takes for scrums to be formed.

There should be a reg­u­la­tion lim­it­ing that time, and the teams who hide be­hind the safety of their front row are only play­ing to the strengths of their scrum.

I am not sure why they have put the minute and game lim­its in place as part of the new wel­fare ini­tia­tives, be­cause clubs look af­ter their play­ers; their as­sets. They have a bet­ter abil­ity to read how a player is feel­ing than any reg­u­la­tion. It is far more pro­duc­tive and safe for the player to trust the club over the rules.

If some­one said to me now there are 46 games, you know in your head you are not go­ing to play them all. But if some­one of­fered you 35 games in the next 12 months, you would say yes, too right.

If I could, I would play all 46. I hated miss­ing games. But no one is go­ing to do that. You can­not start three games in a week. We did back then, but it would be sen­si­ble not to. Equally, the more suc­cess­ful you are, the more tired you be­come. That’s the choice. You can

The choice is you can sleep more or win tro­phies – what do you want? Tro­phies, please

sleep more or win tro­phies – what do you want? The tro­phies, please.

We will see more academy prospects used the more we get into Oc­to­ber, es­pe­cially as sides ce­ment their po­si­tion in the Premier­ship ta­ble or re­alise they are not get­ting into the top four or top six. Le­ices­ter prob­a­bly will be in that sit­u­a­tion be­fore any­one else.

Bris­tol Bears have amaz­ing depth. Bath’s young play­ers are start­ing to come through. Wasps are the most ex­cit­ing team, how­ever they do not have much depth. If they lose that back row of Jack Wil­lis, Thomas Young and Brad Shields, it will be tough for them. But if that unit stays fit un­til the end, and Wasps get a bit of luck, they have a real chance of mak­ing the play-offs and po­ten­tially win­ning the whole thing.

Ex­eter Chiefs a cou­ple of years ago qual­i­fied early for the semi­fi­nals, changed their team around and lost their in­ten­sity. They will have learnt from that. The chal­lenge for di­rec­tors of rugby now is man­ag­ing time, and get­ting their play­ers to peak when it mat­ters most.

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