The timing of the World Cup means that coaches have had a long time to work with their players. Some have shown great ingenuity in finding new ways to build up to the global showpiece. But the lengths they are going to suggest that the training camps are now becoming an exercise in avoiding boredom.
Admittedly, some players need the regimented approach of being told what to do and when do it. But some may prefer not to spend so much time with the squad. By the time the competition in Japan reaches its climax in November, some players will have spent almost six months in and out of training camps.
It’s the job of the coach to keep fit, energetic young sportsmen occupied and engaged. Having to do that for such a long period has raised the need for innovative approaches. Some of the activities show great ingenuity. However, they don’t necessarily mean the squad will be more ready for Japan.
Most of the players in the home nations and Europe were already fit following a long season. That meant there was no need for heavy training sessions. The coaches simply had to select their enlarged training squads then work on putting together units. It involved looking at the most effective front row, back three, or which half backs could work best together. That doesn’t need six months of intensive work. But, to keep an eye on the players and tweak selections, coaches had to be fully in control. That has led to inventive ways of staving off the boredom.
There is the example of Eddie Jones taking his men to Cornwall to work with lifeguards. Conor O’Shea punctuated Italy’s rugby work with a trip to a cancer treatment centre. France have spent time at an army training camp that included activities such as abseiling and other activities that are demanding, both physically and mentally. That’s a route Scotland followed before the last World Cup. Controversially, in addition to being put through military training, that Scottish adventure also included killing animals for food.
There have also been numerous trips for warm weather training, with Turkey, Portugal and Spain among the destinations. Then there has been altitude work – for example, Wales spent time in Switzerland.
The idea is that these activities are character building or good for fine tuning fitness levels. However, it seems that the camps have gone on for so long that there must be a risk of them losing their impact.
The benefits or otherwise of a lengthy build up will face their first test in the forthcoming warm up matches. Yet, even they are little more than a phoney war. Ireland will play England, Wales and Italy, while England also meet Wales and Scotland face France. These matches are bound to be set up in a way that means defeat does not damage confidence.
No previous World Cup has offered coaches so much preparation time. It is unclear whether they have used it wisely. Only after the competition will we know for sure.
Written by Colin Renton