Patrick McKendry

Patrick McKendry is a rugby writer for the Herald.

Rugby: Travel factor no problem for All Blacks

The All Blacks are confident they have the right formula to cope with the fatigue and general malaise that long-haul flights can bring. Photo / Getty Images.
The All Blacks are confident they have the right formula to cope with the fatigue and general malaise that long-haul flights can bring. Photo / Getty Images.

Travelling to the lairs of the most fearsome packs in world rugby would once have been a concern for the All Blacks, but now they feel they have an advantage - insofar as the travel part is concerned anyway.

The Pumas at La Plata, near Buenos Aires, and the Springboks at 'Soccer City', Johannesburg, present the All Blacks' toughest challenge of the Rugby Championship.

Apart from the relative inconvenience of travelling to their destinations, both of their opponents will feel they have points to prove - the Argentines keen to show they are a different proposition at home after comfortably staying with the All Blacks for an hour in their 21-5 defeat in Wellington, and the South Africans boosted by the narrow margin of their 21-11 defeat in Dunedin after being written off.

First up, players with the presence of lock Patricio Albacete and prop Rodrigo Roncero will be keen to give Steve Hansen's men a reminder of the physical challenge they faced at Westpac Stadium.

The All Blacks, however, are confident they have the right formula to cope with the fatigue and general malaise that long-haul flights and markedly different time zones can present.

"Doing two 12-hour flights in two weeks isn't new to us," All Blacks' manager Darren Shand said today on the eve of their departure.

"In the two years prior to the Rugby World Cup we played in Tokyo and Hong Kong on the way to the United Kingdom. The time zones [in Argentina and South Africa] are different, but technically you're doing the same thing.

"Obviously we've got some good people in the sports science and medical area who understand the things that can help us ... it's about how you allow people to recover as best they can, and I think for us we're trying to take that to the highest level that we can.

"All of those one-per-centers can add up."

The Crusaders last year and Sharks this season proved that teams in Super Rugby are becoming more adept at coping with what once would have been considered outrageous travel schedules, although both fell at the final hurdle.

The Sharks acquitted themselves remarkably well in reaching the final against the Chiefs in Hamilton after travelling from Durban to beat the Reds in Brisbane, then going the other way to Cape Town to beat the Stormers.

Players, and management staff, are well schooled in the best ways to deal with long-haul travel. The All Blacks are likely to be given sleeping pills and melatonin tablets [which can help with the re-setting of 'body clocks'] before boarding their flights and instructions on when to take them to minimise the jet lag. Fluids should be taken liberally, though alcohol is obviously not to be touched.

Players could also take their own food, as some in-flight meals aren't considered suitable for professional athletes, even in business class.

The All Blacks will also travel safe in the knowledge that the Springboks have arguably already faced a tougher schedule. Heyneke Meyer's troops had to play the Pumas in Mendoza, before having a week off, a game against Australia in Perth and then a quick turnaround to play the All Blacks in Dunedin.

They got on a plane straight after the loss to the Wallabies, the bitterness of a narrow defeat still fresh, and went direct to Auckland to recover before moving south.

The other recovery factor is the training load, which will be low for the All Blacks in both Buenos Aires and Johannesburg.

And then there is mindset. As Shand said: "It's about getting on with it, because you don't have any choice."

- APNZ

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