Wynne Gray

Wynne Gray is a Herald columnist

All Blacks: Fitness on unique level

Piri Weepu of the All Blacks warms up during a training session at Peffermill University, Scotland. Photo / Getty Images
Piri Weepu of the All Blacks warms up during a training session at Peffermill University, Scotland. Photo / Getty Images

Wales take their squad for cryogenic training in Poland, the Springboks use the advantages of practice at high altitude, but the All Blacks seem the best conditioned team on the planet.

They speak about running their foes ragged with a combination of accurate handling, multi-phase possession and spreading the ball.

In essence, no secret there. Opponents like Scotland earlier today knew what to expect. It's whether they could counter and keep up.

Meanwhile, the All Blacks want to play faster and faster, reasoning that if their skills hold up and they recycle ball well, they'll find holes in any defence. When it is their turn to tackle, they back their fitness to hold their line.

Estimates vary but one of the more mobile All Blacks may cover 10km during an international.

The question remains: If the All Blacks can sustain a certain fitness level, why can't others emulate them?

"We don't know what they do," assistant coach Ian Foster said. "What's important to us is having players on the park with a full tank of gas."

The experience of trainer Nic Gill and the medical group led by Dr Deb Robinson allowed the All Blacks to fashion their week to suit their condition and their next assignment.

When the initial All Black squad was picked in May, the coaches inherited a group of players with different fitness levels who had played a lot of rugby, been little used or were recovering from injury.

There was no blanket approach to getting each player ready for test rugby. Some like Ma'a Nonu needed a lot of rehab training but no games because of his workload.

"We fully understand fans' expectation that players should go out week after week and perform. But the science and the mental side behind that shows you can't do that every single week," said Foster.

"That deal with Ma'a was not three weeks' holiday. He probably trained harder than if he was playing but we were able to charge his body and refresh his mind because he wasn't getting smashed around. He put fuel in the tank for the rest of the year."

Breaks from the game differed; some benefited by going home to their families, others were served better by staying with the squad.

Mixing up the selections for Scotland and Italy on this trip was another example of "looking after" players. Most were at the same fitness level now and had been since the middle of the Rugby Championship.

- NZ Herald

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