Gregor Paul

Gregor Paul is the Herald on Sunday's rugby writer

Rugby: No time to slack off for rookie ABs

Sam Cane will "really get stuck into" training after some down time from his first season of international rugby. Photo / Getty Images
Sam Cane will "really get stuck into" training after some down time from his first season of international rugby. Photo / Getty Images

It has been a huge year for the nine rookie All Blacks but they might find that 2012 was the easy bit as they all face the challenge of having to back up their stellar year.

History shows it has not always been easy for first-year All Blacks to deliver again in their second season to the extent that some even talk of there being a 'second season syndrome'. It is tough for the new boys, as the logistics of being a test player are different and present problems.

The 32 All Blacks on tour in Europe played their last test this morning in London but their commitments didn't end there. Most have a week of commercial obligations to fulfil in Europe. Once they get home in mid-December, they will take a few weeks off before embarking on detailed and extensive personal conditioning programmes in January.

But some new players have struggled mentally at the end of their first season. They have come home from successful tours and enjoyed themselves for too long - enjoyed the Christmas break and forgotten that hard work was what got them into the All Blacks in the first place.

In crude terms, they have believed their own hype and been complacent during the pre-season, failing to nail an appropriate conditioning base and then struggling to build their form. Or they are struck down by injury.

Others have toiled physically because they are drained by the unusually high demands of being an All Black and come home with various parts of their body in need of minor surgery.

That pushes players into rehabilitation through summer and, again, many of the new boys who haven't had experience of recovering, take longer than usual to get back into full swing.

All Blacks coach Steve Hansen has been around since 2004 and knows the importance of ensuring all 32 players on tour - especially the younger, less experienced ones - are well managed and steered through the next few months. He knows players can't just be dumped on their franchise without clear plans about what will happen next.

"Not really," he says as to whether he is worried about any of the new caps falling off the radar in the early part of next year. "Because two things happen: we have a transition meeting with the team they are going back to. So, for example, the appropriate people from the All Blacks group will sit down with the appropriate people at the Blues and discuss the athletes we have.

"We will say 'this is the athlete we are handing back to you and this is what we feel needs to happen'. These players will then have an individual improvement programme and they will then sit down with the coaches at the Blues and say what it is they want to work on over the next six months.

"We get a copy of that programme and if there is anything that we don't like or would like to see in it, then we will suggest that as well. But it is player-driven and that is the important thing - hopefully there are no holes in it. Because it is player-driven, if he can't be motivated and his form falls off, then he runs the risk of not being picked."

The argument for appointing Hansen, former assistant to Sir Graham Henry, was that it would allow for continuity and not see the new man make so many mistakes in the early part of his reign.

Previous coaches have often been slow to see potential dangers, which is why Hansen is actively managing what has been a tricky period in the past.

None of the new boys has been left in any doubt about what the next few months hold in store. None has been left in any doubt about the need to start from scratch in 2013 and work hard - essentially to do all the things that won them test selection in the first place.

Says Sam Cane: "Obviously you want to build on this season and get better. It is hugely important, though, that you have a bit of down time so you start to get excited about next season. I have a wee holiday planned, will take some family time but will continue to do a bit of training and then after that bit of time off, I'll really get stuck into it."

- Herald on Sunday

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