With the Ospreys enjoying a 21 day break between fixtures following last weekend's LV= Cup fixture at Bath, it might be easy to imagine the squad putting their feet up for three weeks and enjoying the international break, but the reality is, work goes on at the Llandarcy Academy of Sport.
There are three whole weeks between the Bath game and the region’s next fixture, when Magners League action returns to the Liberty Stadium with the visit of reigning champions Munster on Saturday 5th December, and although the focus has changed with no match on the immediate horizon, there’ll still be plenty of hard work carried out at the region – as well as a week’s break for the fortunate ones who will be using the time off to recover from the rigours of the season so far.
As Director of Coaching Scott Johnson explains, having this period without any matches allows him to change his focus onto team building and creating a strong squad ethic, while the strength and conditioning team take the opportunity to spend a bit more time working with the players than they would get during a normal week. Johnson said:
“In terms of actual hard work, this period is mainly a physical prep time for us, we’ve handed the guys over to the conditioning team to work with them and to try and allow them to catch up physically. We’ve also introduced a few of the younger guys to the squad environment during this period, to allow them to see the whys and wherefores of what we do. From my perspective, this week is about the physical stuff, a little bit of rugby, and it’s also about going back to basics, rediscovering what’s good about the sport at all levels, about why so many people play it for fun around the world.
“There’s a social aspect to what we want to do during this period, as we’ve got time on our hands which is the first time we’ve had that since I’ve been here. As a group, there are little things that we are doing which can help to bring us together, like setting groups the task of cooking the rest of us lunch, to create team unity. People always tend to think that success in rugby is all about what happens on the field, but it’s also about the personal stuff as well.
“There’s a serious side to having more time on our hands than normal this week though, and we are using this time to allow the guys to work on the analysis of our opponents in December. We’ve split the players into groups and made them responsible for the detailed analysis of our opponents and they’ll have to present a preview to the rest of the squad. It’s about making them more accountable, getting them to take more responsibility for the games ahead, and we’re about to sit down over the next day or two and go through the information that they’ve pulled together.
“It’s about creating a positive environment here, a little bit of fun, but with a serious edge. I don’t think that anyone looking in would deny that it’s a great environment here at the moment, it’s about getting everything else right to go with it now, and the work being done this week will go a long way towards that. We may be missing players on international duty, but the core of the squad is here and they are playing a hugely important role for what we will be doing as a group in December.”
Head Strength and Conditioning Coach, Mark Bennett says that he is enjoying having the rare opportunity of spending a week working with the players without the demands of a match at the end of the week, but he is quick to point out that three weeks without a game doesn’t mean that he has three weeks to work with the squad:
“Time goes really quickly, it may be three weeks between games but we’re only really looking at one week when you think about it. The third week will be the normal build up to a game, with Munster coming at the end of it. It’s an important game, and it will be a difficult week with all the players back in from the Welsh squad, so there’ll be a lot of work on the rugby front, to get them back into ‘Ospreys mode’ so to speak.
“Next week is a week off for a large number of players, it’s the first opportunity for a bit of time off that we’ve had and it’s important that we allow them to use it wisely, there will be players who really need it given the amount of games that we’ve played. Rugby is obviously a very physical activity and the fatigue that can build up in players over a period of time can sometimes, perhaps, mask quite a lot when it comes to the actual fitness of a player, for want of a better word, especially, the explosive types of activity. What you can find is that after a week off, players will come back not only improved mentally, but also physically, even if they’ve done very little work during the time off, if they’ve done enough conditioning work before hand.
“That leaves us with just the one week really, this week, and it’s about trying to do a little bit of conditioning work, and also, trying to do some objective testing so that we can find out where we are with the players and to make sure we are heading in the right direction and we do the right things between now and the end of the year. We did some rigorous testing in pre-season, and this will allow us to see who has improved in what areas, and if there’s anything we need to do to change some people’s programmes to put them in the right direction.”
Bennett is pragmatic about the impact that he can have in the space of a single week, but he says that he’s looking forward to a month of Saturday fixtures in December, which allows him a bit more time working week-to-week than can sometimes be the case:
“You can’t massively impact on someone’s fitness in just a week, this week will give us the opportunity to do some work as there is less in the way of time pressures with no game at the end of it, but it’s mainly an opportunity to get measurements that will allow us to tweak individual programmes for the next couple of months. Our run in towards the
Scarlets game on Boxing Day isn’t too bad, they are all seven day turnarounds, and that makes life a lot easier, as it means that you do tend to have enough time to a little bit of conditioning during the week, and actually make some changes to people. The extra time
that you get, compared to six day turnarounds, or even five day turnarounds, can really make a difference.
“Without a doubt, with a five or six day turnaround the focus is on preparing for a rugby match, rather than preparing athletes. The work that we can do then is really just about recovering from game to game. It takes two days for players to recover, you have to allow them an easy day physically the day before a game, you have game day itself, a day off in
the week, that’s five days gone already. If it’s a six day turnaround, it leaves you with just one day to do any meaningful training”