Altitude training gave us taste for Bloemfontein
Player Diary: Josh van der Flier
It's fair to say that this tour has created some headaches for management but from a players' point of view, our first tour in South Africa has so far gone really well.
We flew into Johannesburg on Wednesday last week and trained there. There were a few reasons for that. The altitude being one and giving us a taste for it before the Cheetahs game this week. Also the heat.
It was 30 degrees for both days there so it was a nice change up from the Irish autumn but important too that we got a feel for playing in that sort of heat, especially for those of us like myself and Mick Kearney that wear scrum caps. It was great to feel that heat and that closeness in the air. It's hard to describe really but it can catch you off guard, almost suffocating in its intensity so it's great to experience it nice and early in the tour.
Upon landing in Jo'burg we had optional gym sessions for those who felt up for it. I was pretty tired from the travelling so I thought I would take gym off and be that bit fresher for training. I ended up loosening up in the pool and sitting in the sunshine which was not a bad alternative to a gym session. On the pitch training in the altitude and in 30-degree heat was quite challenging and gave us a bit of a taste for what Bloemfontein this week might be like.
After the few days in Jo'burg we flew down to Port Elizabeth where we did our Captain's Run and then played the Kings on the Saturday. It was a scrappy game against a very physical and fast side.
The score didn't do justice to the Kings and their performance in trying circumstances. I can't imagine how difficult it must be to put a team together in such short time but they have improved week on week and I think they will take some big northern hemisphere scalps.
People are asking us about differences in the South African teams and with one game played, one difference for me was that I found them tough to tackle. What I mean by that is that they all had good feet, regardless of the number on their back so it was hard to get impact hits in.
I don't sleep great after games regardless of who we play and it was the same here. It's the adrenaline, the amount of energy from all the food leading up to the game and then on this occasion your room mate snoring like a hammer...it doesn't help! I have learned the hard way that there is no point trying to force sleep on myself too early so I would normally read or watch TV until late...but again the noise from the lump beside me didn't help!
On Sunday we went to the sea in Nelson Mandela Bay for a recovery swim. It makes a big difference to get into the sea when you're a bit sore even if it is just to freshen up a little. After that we headed straight for the airport and stashed up on biltong for the flight to Cape Town.
We watched the Cheetahs-Zebre game in anticipation of our own game this week. The pace of the Cheetahs backs is incredible so we know we will have a challenge there. They scored 54 points at home which shows our defence will have to be on top form. Apart from the few days in Jo'burg, the challenge of altitude will be new to most of us, but there is not much point focusing on it because it can't be an excuse. We have also been told that it is hotter in Bloemfontein than in Jo'burg so we will see if the scrum cap makes it past the warm-up.
It's incredible to be travelling around South Africa playing sport. I do still pinch myself as it's pretty incredible to be out here doing what you love and seeing the world doing it. Irish tours are brilliant but it's good to be able to tour with the lads you hang out and train with all year and who you have known since school and before.
Another element is that I find it a challenge to change focus from seeing all these cool places and then having to switch into game or training mode, I guess it is a skill? You have to be able to enjoy the new sights and the time with the lads and then be able to flick a switch and be 100pc focused on what we are here for, to play rugby. This tour will test the skill for sure. Here's hoping I'm not rooming with Peter Dooley though for the rest of it...