Thursday 27 October 2016

Making sure squad in peak condition for title run-in

Paul Bunce

Published 29/04/2016 | 02:30

Rob Henshaw and Bundee Aki celebrate Connacht's victory over Munster (SPORTSFILE)
Rob Henshaw and Bundee Aki celebrate Connacht's victory over Munster (SPORTSFILE)

After the boys' win over Munster I'm sure a lot of them enjoyed a few deserved days off to recharge ahead of the last few weeks of the season.

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Coming to the end of a long campaign we felt it was important that the players were allowed to rest up from Sunday to Wednesday, before they arrived back into training last Thursday and Friday.

It's important to get the balance between resting physically and coming back ready to train hard again right - we want players to have an element of rest, but not too much that they come back rusty.

This meant that we hit the gym and did some rugby at the end of last week for a couple of days to ensure we came into this week well prepped for Treviso and Glasgow.

We had two main training days leading into our trip to Treviso, with next week's focus being all about ensuring we are ready for Glasgow.

My time in Connacht began almost two seasons ago now and so far it has been a successful and enjoyable journey.

I like to keep things pretty simple, but I also like to ensure we are thorough and consistent in key areas like strength, power and fitness, individual preparation, and ensuring this focus ties in strongly with the coaches and what they are trying to achieve rugby-wise.


A key aim is to keep field sessions at a high enough level of intensity to keep the player's conditioning levels high, as well as make sure they are ready for the intensity of games.

Each player has their own individual training focus which means we try and work on key areas for each player.

This could be maximum strength, power, repeated sprinting ability, or simply injury prevention. There are also opportunities for any players to do fitness and gym 'top ups'.

While we work with all of the squad on an individual basis where possible, at this time of season the schedule is shaped more towards performance.

Most of the hard physical work has been done - players should have enough in the bank, so now is the time they can draw on the hours of training we have done over the year.

The aim is to refine everything, making sure our training is as sharp as possible, and that the players feel fresh enough to be able to compete for 80 minutes.

If a player is called up at short notice they need to be ready to go. Shane O'Leary who came in and played against Ulster recently is a good example of the background preparation a player does to makes sure they are ready to go.

Because we have up to 50 players working with the senior team on occasion, I'm fortunate to have a great, hard-working department.

Myself and Tristan Sharp work with the senior squad, with one of Tristan's main role being helping the players who are injured stay in the best shape possible.

Andrew Murphy and Micheál Devane work with the academy and sub-academy players. It is vital that the senior and academy set ups complement each other when it comes to the physical development of all players.

Andrew came on board around the time I started. Our aim for the academy squad from the start was to have academy players physically ready to step straight into the senior squad when they were needed.

We aim to have them come through with similar body composition, strength, power, speed, and body mass levels as a senior player in their position.

All going well, when they step into the senior environment they are able to cope physically with the training demands imposed on them.

Players' physical qualities are tracked across the entire season for all players, and over the last two years we have seen some very positive changes in a lot of players - particularly in areas such as strength, lean muscle mass and fat loss. This primarily comes back to players working hard and being dedicated towards their physical goals.

But there is still more to do especially now that we have qualified for the Champions Cup. Across the board players work extremely hard to make sure they are in the best shape they can be.

Some of the individual achievements over the last two seasons have been remarkable, and I know this bodes well for the weeks to come.

Paul Bunce is Head of Fitness at Connacht Rugby

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