A week in the life of a rugby player

If you’re anything like me you’ve never been a professional rugby player or sports person. I wouldn’t even describe myself as an amateur sports person. I’m a guy that has a “9-5” office job that might go for the occasional run and plays a little social touch. So when I’m watching a player talking they are coming from a totally different world to me. Here’s my interview with Joe Edwards putting in a “normal” professional rugby week into terms that us office folks would understand.

First up a big thank you to Joe and Auckland Rugby for taking the time to sit with me. This is a piece that has been bubbling away in the back of my mind for about a year now. I was at an interview with 1 of the Game of Thrones stars. He was asked a question from the audience and the host jokingly said “careful how you answer that she’s from HR.” He replied “What’s HR?” Anyone who has worked in an office, shop or factory will know who Human Resources are. It made me realise how different his experiences were to everybody else in the room. With rugby players coming out of school straight into academies and on to professional rugby teams, to a lesser extent, this is now happening with professional rugby players too.

We kicked off with game day and ran through what Joe gets up to in a “normal” week. With the Mitre10 Cup having games from Wednesday to Sunday there isn’t a set schedule so we assumed a week where there were back to back Saturday games. This is very rare and even in Super Rugby with significant travel for many games a set routine like this doesn’t happen often.

Saturday – Game Day

Game day mean getting to the ground 2.5 hours before kick-off, in New Zealand that often means 5pm as most professional games kick-off in the evenings. The forwards will practice lineouts and sharpners whilst the backs will run some strike moves. This will be followed up by a team meeting especially if the weather looks like it will change. This is interesting as we often say that New Zealand sides still play with the ball even in the wet.

Players have their own pre-game routine and Joe likes a massage an hour before the game. Then he’ll read though his notes for the game. These are any special moves or details due to the opposition and also what he is personally looking to do/goals to achieve in the game. A key point about these notes is that they are a couple of bullet points not a long description and the same applies to the earlier team meeting.

After the game there are ice baths to aid recovery and at the Mitre10 Cup level minimal press duties before they can clock off.

Sunday – Recovery

The following day is compulsory recovery, what became clear is that the whole week is recovery to a greater or lesser extent. Depending on who their body feels will depend how much time on subsequent days they do.

I’ve always wondered what recovery means, is it lying in bed all day or light exercise or massages? Recovery takes 1-1.5 hours and has several stages. First it’s stretches focusing on problem areas for about 20 minutes. Then it’s onto the stationary bike to flush out the lactic acid and then into the pool for a swim. I though that this was about no impact exercise but apparently it’s also for the compression that the water provides. Finally it’s a massage to finish the session. Joe’s a fan of massages so you’ll see it mentioned a few times but other players might not have as many if they aren’t into them.

Players will do personal analysis of the game via an app or if that’s out of the budget of the club re-watch the game. The idea is to look at the positive and negative things that they did but also to compare that to the team and personal goals for that game. It’s not just looking to see what happened but also to try to understand how they made things happen.

Monday – Review and Conditioning

Training days mean being in at 7:30am if you need medical attention or 8am if you don’t, with the activities going through to 4:30pm in the afternoon. So the are full “9-5” days which makes me wonder how much coffee drinking that we see on Instagram and Twitter really goes on.

Monday starts with team analysis of the game and part of the reason for the personal analysis on the Sunday it preparing to contribute in the discussion. This reviews how the game went verses the specific game pointers and game plan. Players are encouraged to play what’s infant of them and so option taking is a specific point looked at but so is execution of those options. In other words feel free to have a go but make sure you can deliver, i.e. trying to take a player on the outside might be the right option for a winger but not a prop.

This is followed by a whole body gym session and then some conditioning games and key skills training at low intensity. Joe’s point was that this was all about timing and if we think about how often we see the All Blacks in the right place for the pass/offload it makes sense. There is also a lineout session for the forwards and they appear to be doing lineout practice constantly throughout the week. Again this is an area I have noticed the New Zealand sides have stepped up over the last couple of seasons. They are really able to disrupt the opposition lineout as much as win their own.

Tuesday – Preparation and Training

Tuesday is about looking forwards no backwards and doing the analysis on the team they will face next. This is looking at the keys areas to attack their defence and visa versa the key areas that you need to defend against their attack.

This is followed up by a “clarity session” which is on the pitch running through the game plan. This is a 100% intensity session but not full contact, so holding players not full on tackles.

There is then an afternoon targeted gym session either upper body or to trim down. Having never been someone who goes to the gym this will mean more to some of you than it did to me.

Split over Tuesday and Thursday will be 4 hours of personal development outside of rugby. This can be organised courses by Auckland Rugby or individual planned meetings. These range from lawyers visits, financial planning, family planning, career advice, etc… To be accepted into the Auckland academy structure you must have an outside interest. This can be further education, an apprenticeship or even being a trainee hairdresser. That last 1 really caught me by surprise but when you look at the Savea brothers hairstyles for example, clearly style/fashion is something New Zealand rugby players take a keen interest in. Joe clearly pointed out that players need to switch off from rugby when they go home and need other interests

Wednesday – Day off

Whilst Wednesday is a day off if they feel they need it then it will be used for recovery. Depending on how the player is feeling will depend on how much of the Sunday routine they do but massages and swims will be common.

There will also be a review of the notes so that players are prepared for training on Thursday. As you can see every single day including the recovery and day off include checking notes and thinking about rugby. It becomes clear why players need to learn how to switch on and off. That also applies at training, you can’t train with 100% concentration the whole time. This interview happened at training and whilst the TV and paper journalists were doing their interviews the players were doing the “cross-bar challenge” but basket ball style. Generally throwing the ball around or forward trying drop goals. Once the TV and paper guys were gone the coaches and player leadership group “flipped the switch” and training became serious.

Thursday – Training

Thursday starts with a power gym session concentrating on speed and explosiveness.

Then the morning is about splitting into units so the forwards run though their lineouts (again) and scrums whilst the backs concentrate on their strike moves in particular 1st phase ball. This is really interesting as a couple of years ago I remember hearing of Aviva Premiership coaches saying that they didn’t both practicing 1st phase moves off scrums as the ball never comes out. I think that’s changed a bit now but clearly New Zealand sides think it’s important. The match day 23 will have been selected so those not in the squad will be acting as the opposition and using Tuesday’s analysis to act like the Saturday’s opponents.

The afternoon session is at game intensity but running drills and scenarios. I was interested to know what level the scenarios go to. These are normal game scenarios not those that look at required points for qualification or something. I pulled out the Robshaw Rugby World Cup decision to go to the corner and asked if that would be a scenario that they team will discuss. Amongst the whole team not as discussions about what’s needed from a game would be kept to the leadership team. Even then it will just be general goals of x points or tries and decisions like kicking to the corner would be made on the pitch. That surprised me due to the pressure and lack of time to make a decision on the pitch and I thought that various decisions would be pre-panned.

Friday – Captain’s Run

The Captain’s Run is just for the match day 23 and is short but intense. First the starting 15  will run though the game plan and then the reserves will rotate in and it’s all repeated. I was surprised that this wasn’t a full squad exercise.

Then it’s game day and this is repeated from March (Super Rugby) through to October (Mitre10 Cup) for the non-internationals. That doesn’t include pre-season and I hope to do a follow-up piece looking at what pre-season is like for players.

Again a big thank you to Auckland Rugby and Joe Edwards for taking the time to have chat with me.

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