Thursday 21 September 2017

Heat is on Ireland's new fitness guru to avoid more 'GUBU' situations

Ruaidhri O'Connor in Houston

IF THE heat is all Jason Cowman has to worry about in Houston this week, then the IRFU's strength and conditioning guru will consider it a decent improvement on his last experience with the Ireland team.

The former Leinster back-room team member has been managing the science of preparing Les Kiss' side for facing the United States in mid-30 degree conditions and 80pc-plus humidity on Saturday night.

But, having endured such a difficult Six Nations – with an unprecedented raft of injuries that led team manager Mick Kearney to declare the situation as being GUBU – the Dubliner is happy to be focusing on getting the team acclimatised for their battle with the Eagles and the Texan temperatures.

He had the players wearing bin-bags at Carton House last week to replicate their perspiration levels in Houston and this week he has been gradually bringing them into the heat ahead of the game.

Yesterday they took on plenty of fluids while going through their paces at the Houston Dynamos CES training centre.

One of the features of this tour has been the refreshing lack of injuries.

Stuart Olding's ankle trouble has cleared up and the squad has trained in full. It makes a big change from the spring.

CURVE

The injury-ridden Six Nations was Cowman's first in the job after making the step from Leinster and it has been a steep learning curve.

So, where did all the injuries come from?

"Man, I'd love to know the answer to that question," he replies. "There are a lot of people who can hang their hats on cause and effects in terms of injury, but sometimes you just can't mitigate against them.

"Back in 2009 the injury profile for the squad was only a couple when they won the Grand Slam. This time around there has been a few more and, obviously, we didn't go so well.

"If we can reduce the injuries – or get rid of them – we have a far greater chance of winning games. When they are upon us, it is a bloody tough challenge."

The Union have investigated the Six Nations and their conclusion appears to be that the sequence of knocks and strains was a freak occurrence.

"It would appear that way. If you look at the pattern of it, there weren't three or four hamstring tears. There weren't repeated injuries. There was lots of trauma, an ankle here and there," Cowman agrees.

"It was certainly difficult for me, the first time being involved and trying to overcome those injuries. It was pretty challenging. It was unfortunate."

It has been a difficult season for injuries with Ireland, but when the Union's fitness staff take a step back and view the overall profile, they find it to be in decent shape compared to other countries.

The challenge is keeping it that way.

"It's been hard, when you think about it – a World Cup cycle, a trip to New Zealand, the Lions cycle this year and this group are over here in the heat.

"It's challenging work for some of these guys over a three-year period," Cowman explains.

"It's going to be tougher and tougher for us to have the injury profile we've had in Ireland, which is quite good."

The injury profile on this tour may be linked to the age of the squad who have assembled under Kiss to take on the US and Canada.

Five were underage for last year's U-20 World Cup, two still are this year and for those players the focus is on different elements of building their bodies up to make them more durable in the professional game.

"The challenge for us is, because we are not the naturally gifted speed, size, power individuals... we have got to put that into them. That, in itself, causes a stress," says Cowman.

"We have to get the balance right of what we think is an appropriate level of physical development so they can compete in collisions and tackles. But, at the same time, it must not be such a stress on the players, that they break down and get hurt."

After the season just gone and the struggles in the Six Nations, that would make a refreshing change and it is something Joe Schmidt will have his fingers crossed for as he assumes the reins.

Irish Independent

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