Worcester Warrior finally feeling fully fit again after Lions exertions
ENGLAND centre Ben Te’o believes Ireland ‘do it right’ by centrally contracting their top Test players, after revealing the extent to which being plunged straight back into league action following last summer’s Lions tour compromised his fitness.
Te’o returned from New Zealand a hero but just 49 days later featured in Warriors’ opening day loss at Newcastle – an unsatisfactory situation that contrasted sharply, he claims, with the experiences of the Irish Lions he had played with.
While the likes of Johnny Sexton and Tadgh Furlong rested, not appearing again until the end of September, Te’o told The Rugby Paper: “I had a bit of holiday, then two weeks of training and it was straight back to the Premiership.
“It is relentless for players here, especially coming off the Lions. It’s like you’re always playing catch-up and you’re never as well conditioned as you should be. The situation works differently in countries where there are centrally contracted players, like Ireland. They do it right, but we’re in a different system.
“It can take guys six or seven games to really get in their groove here because you haven’t had a preseason. They’re just getting off a sun bed about ten days before and then playing, but that’s the difference in England where there are privately owned teams in the Premiership and they expect you to get out and play.”
Asked whether central contracts could work in England, former Leinster midfielder Te’o says: “From playing in Ireland and talking to a lot of their guys, I understand how beneficial the central contracting system is.
“I came off the Lions tour without a proper preseason and it can be tough on players to back-up without the fitness, weight training or running under their belts.
“My form at the start of this season was not my best and the next minute I injured my ankle – so I’ve been chasing my tail for fitness since that Lions tour.”
The serious ankle sprain Te’o suffered in October required the insertion of a plate, causing him to miss the Autumn series and threatening his Six Nations campaign.
However, he recovered to start against Italy in Rome and featured in all five of England’s matches. Despite a disappointing campaign in which England lost their last three games to finish fifth, he is ready to tackle South Africa.
Te’o said: “Ankle injuries hang around and from having surgery and wearing a boot for six weeks you have to learn how to walk, jog and run all over again.
“When you’ve had a traumatic injury it takes time to get confidence back when you’re chop tackled or go into those heavy contact situations.
“There were ups and downs, but I was delighted to make the first game against Italy. I started three Six Nations games and came off the bench twice.”
Te’o added: “It was frustrating results-wise and it was Ireland’s turn. They were the best team in the comp but that’s just the way sport goes sometimes because form, injuries and how players are feeling after the Lions all comes into it.
“For England it’s about bouncing back in South Africa now and I’m ready to go. If you’re a competitive player and you’ve been part of the England set-up for the last few years, you can’t wait to get back and have another crack.”
Meanwhile, another season of under-achievement by Worcester has heightened Te’o’s determination to be part of something special next season.
Quashing speculation he might move on, Te’o said: “I’ll 100 per cent be here next season. The issue with this club has been looking down at what’s behind us instead of looking up – and there’s been a lot of chopping and changing of staff.
“Alan Solomons has come and taken control, though, and as long as he’s in place there’s no reason why we can’t climb the ladder and challenge.
“Picking up guys like Jono Lance and Duncan Weir is huge. They’re both experienced players who’ve played in big games so we just want to finish this season strongly now. After that, I’m sure Alan will lead us in the right direction next year.”
Te’o is confident there will be other Worcester players touring South Africa, adding: “Jack Singleton, our hooker, and second row Will Spencer are putting in great performances and I know they’re getting closer to being picked.
“Warriors would love these guys to tour because it would be a great example for our academy lads to see those guys being capped.
“It shows young guys you don’t need to leave this club to have a chance of international rugby.”
England prospects: Jack Singleton and Will Spencer