Thursday 19 September 2019

IRFU guru Cowman outlines physical toll of Test matches

Ireland's strength & conditioning coach Jason Cowman. Photo: Sportsfile
Ireland's strength & conditioning coach Jason Cowman. Photo: Sportsfile

Rúaidhrí O'Connor

It is the jewel in their crown and yesterday the IRFU offered an insight into the player management regime that plays such a part in their success.

Along with head coach Joe Schmidt, strength and conditioning coach Jason Cowman runs the programme that attracts plenty of praise, but he also cops some criticism when leading players are held back from bigger provincial games.

Cowman outlined how he sees international players as a "limited resource" on whom extreme demands are placed.

In his time with Ireland, which began in 2012, Cowman says the game at the top level has changed utterly and the impact it is having on players has increased significantly.

It means contact in training is a thing of the past in the international windows as the coaches try and manage the players' bodies.

"In our environment, nationally, (there is) very little real contact," Cowman said of training sessions.

"When I started in Leinster, lads ponied up on Monday and they were ready to go. A couple of years ago, in the Test match window, it was a Tuesday before they had recovered.

"Now, it's probably Thursday in the week after a Test match before they are ready to go.

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"So we would monitor on a Monday, we look at our data on Monday and realise we need to monitor them again on Tuesday. Sometimes we're looking on Tuesday and thinking, 'they're still not all fully right'.

"The effort is colossal.

"They come in on Thursday and they are good to go again, so to dump contact in on top of that doesn't strike me as particularly sensible.

"It might be different after an intepro game, or with the provinces.

"I'm sure some environments consider it to be important but in our environment, given the exposure they get in Test matches, we're less inclined to do it."

Cowman outlined that the IRFU manage 90 players as part of their welfare programme, judging their minutes on the field over the course of the campaign based on a combination of their playing, training and injury histories as well as their pre-season and ability to regenerate during rest weeks during the campaign.

Players in the Irish system are playing between 27 and 31 games a season or between 1,800 and 2,100 minutes a season, with the IRFU and the provinces working together to select which matches they should play in.

"We're making sure these guys get degrees of rest during the season so they can optimally perform whenever we want them to perform," he explained. "Why game minutes? It's the commonest language. Everybody talks about the game.

"It's the period of time when the player is expected to perform, for sure, it's definitely the biggest stress in the week, requires the biggest recovery from exposure and these guys give an unbelievable amount of effort when they play.

"The effort they give is unquestionable, phenomenal. It takes its toll. Looking at it from a human level, we need to manage our expectation around the effort.

"Out of respect for the effort we have to manage how often we require them to do it."

This season the focus of most players is making the 31-man squad for next year's World Cup in Japan.

And Cowman questions why those squads are limited to an arbitrary number when the nature of the game demands so much of the players during the tournament.

"We'll utilise the 31 players who will travel. It would be great if we had more," he said.

"If we're serious about managing resources, why is it 31?

"If we want to train 15 on 15 you need 30 players, but you're always going to have three or four players who are a bit banged up, have a bit of a niggle who can't train because they wouldn't be right from the weekend."

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