Irish fitness in slow lane - Liebel
Undeterred by the sight of captain John Smit waddling around all summer in their dismal Tri Nations campaign, South Africa's conditioning coach has slammed the speed of the game in the northern hemisphere.
And Neels Liebel has pointed the finger at two of his side's Irish-based players -- Leinster's CJ van der Linde and Ulster's BJ Botha -- as examples of how the game on this side of the equator lacks intensity.
The IRFU's new fitness coach, Philip Morrow, who officially kicked off the post-Dr Liam Hennessy era with his first day at the office yesterday, will have listened to Liebels' diatribe with some interest.
Liebel said he had facts to show northern hemisphere rugby was slower than the game played in the southern hemisphere.
He told a news conference the new global positioning system (GPS) the Springboks are using to track the movement of players during games and training had proved those based in Europe were behind the pace of locally-based internationals.
Head coach Pieter de Villiers, whose job is under scrutiny as he prepares for another tussle against the All Blacks this weekend, has fielded five European-based players this season -- props Van der Linde and Botha, No 8 Joe van Niekerk (Toulon), full-back Francois Steyn (Racing Metro) and out-half Butch James (Bath).
"This GPS system allows us to do very close monitoring of the players, the distance they run, the pace they are running, and for guys like BJ and CJ, their clubs are also on the system and they have sent us all their data," Liebel said.
"From all this we have seen the players from overseas are playing at about half the intensity of the Super 14, in terms of the speed they play at. It's a slower game there and players from there struggle to keep up with the pace."
Van der Linde and James are in the squad to face New Zealand in Johannesburg on Saturday.
"It's taken four or five weeks for us to get those European-based players to the intensity we wanted. Before that they were not getting to the ball quickly enough.
"There's nothing wrong with their conditioning, it's just the game is different in the northern hemisphere, they play closer to the rucks, they don't often move the ball further than five or six metres from the ruck."
Liebel defended Smit, who is due to win his 100th cap on Saturday but has been under fire over his form and fitness.
"John is in a good physical condition, the distance he's been running and the pace he's been running are up there with his usual stats," said Liebel. "His weight is the same as it has been the last two or three years and with the exact same fat percentage. So I have no concerns about his fitness at all."
The new IRFU recruit Morrow takes up the position as his new employers embark on a punishing, 13-month build-up to the 2011 World Cup.
Morrow is steeped in Irish rugby, beginning his career in 2001 with the Ulster Rugby Academy, where he quickly moved to the role of national academy fitness manager in 2002, a role he combined while working with the Ireland U-19 and U-21 representative sides.
Morrow worked as the head of strength and conditioning with Ulster from October 2003 and was part of the management team that won the Celtic Cup in 2003/'04 and the Magners League in 2005/'06.
Crack Kiwi conditioning coach Ashley Jones from the Crusaders was also interviewed but apparently the administrative aspects of he job deterred him. Morrow also had to shrug off a strong challenge from Leinster's Jason Cowman.
Morrow will be pleased to see Denis Leamy return to the paddock this Friday night when Munster tackle the Leicester Tigers in a Thomond Park friendly.
Felix Jones also makes a welcome return after suffering a serious neck injury last season.