Gregor Paul

Gregor Paul is the Herald on Sunday's rugby writer

All Blacks: No summer of fun after England clash

Twickenham will round off a punishing year but while the rest of us are relaxing on the beach, Hansen's men will be toiling to get in shape for the Super rugby season.

Everyone worries that the All Blacks will have their minds on summer back home instead of the test against England this Sunday. They needn't fret - January may be about the beach, icecreams and cold drinks for the masses, but for the modern All Black it is a month of serious pain induced by brutal conditioning regimes that are now considered non-negotiable. A thundering test against a massive English side is light relief compared with what awaits once they get home.

The days of All Blacks finishing up in November, throwing the boots in a bag and not looking for them again until early February are long gone. The season really is year-long now for the elite players and while they are afforded time off in December, they essentially don't rest in the sense that most people would understand the term.

It's just not possible any more as the bulk of the squad in the UK have to report back to their Super rugby franchise in late January in seriously good condition.

And there is no bluffing or hiding - they will all be tested, all expected to record a base level in speed, strength and stamina assignments.

The fitness levels of the All Blacks are incredible and they have to be rigorously maintained: a summer of fun would see a player regress and without a conditioning base, they won't be able to play the quality of rugby they need to.

"For the period of December, essentially, most of them will have rest and rehabilitation," said All Black conditioning coach Nic Gill. "They will be told to go away and mentally and physically recover. Most of them will continue to do something in that period. I will send them away with a basic structure where they will go for a run a couple of times a week and go to the gym a couple of times a week, whenever you want, and follow this basic routine."

In an ideal world that period of gentle recovery would be longer. But it's not and with only three to four weeks available for the All Blacks to get ready for Super rugby, they have to maximise that period.

"There is really not enough time to be honest," said Owen Franks. "If I started in January I would have probably two, three weeks of training before I had to be back with the Crusaders.

"I will have a week off after the tour and then I have some goals for the pre-season. So [after a week off] I'll get stuck into my training and focus on next year."

Franks is renowned in the squad for being one of the most disciplined and hardest trainers as well as being one of the strongest props in the world game. He sees the next six to eight weeks as a massive opportunity and will plough through the work, which is not easy.

The training programmes are brutal and lonely - the onus is on the individual to be responsible for their fitness and follow an aerobic and strength programme that will include sprint repeats, hill work, gym work and agility sessions.

For some players, particularly the younger, less developed players, the emphasis will be on building strength, while for others, such as Piri Weepu, the programme will be loaded with aerobic content.

It is a demanding time and requires depth of character. Not only does the training have to be intense, the players have to continue to be careful with how much and what they eat as well as how much they drink.

"Come January they have to get ready for Super rugby," said Gill. "They will have pretty clear direction from their Super rugby franchise [about what is expected]. What happens is once they are finished the last test of the season, they are no longer an All Black essentially.

"It is a critical time and a period of time in which we are all doing better. I think the level of professionalism in this group means they know what is required and what is expected to make good use of the time they do have.

"They know the brevity of the time they have and they know that if they don't do it right, they either get hurt or they start way on the back foot. Most utilise January well but some don't. There will be testing done in January, so when the All Blacks come back into their franchise squad, they will be tested."

- NZ Herald

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