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Putting it in for the greater good in pre-season

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The only ones not shouting for the sun to come out and finally bring us some summer must be rugby players in their condition phase of pre-season.

This is the part of the year when you have to be prepared to suffer. After just four weeks off, professional players brace themselves to get back on the horse, clocking up heavy mileage and competing against their previous marks in various circuits and cardiovascular routines.
As a normal human being, you wouldn’t worry about the ‘drop off’ in tone and fitness from an absence of four weeks’ activity – most of us probably note the extra indulgence for that length of time around Christmas or summer holidays but don’t do anything in particular about it. Even if we did, who would really know, or care how far we had fallen?
For professionals it is different, they are conditioned mentally and physically to be at their peak on a weekly basis. For the pre-season period, those guys are building up to be in tip-top shape for the first weekend in September and then continue to gain extra match fitness and sharpness every week.
It is a tough balancing act too. We all want to see our players knocking the opposition backwards in contact. But we want them quick and agile too. It can’t just be about humping weights in the gym, players have to be able to carry their own bodyweight comfortably around the pitch.
On top of that, there is all the detail of the game drawn up by the coaching staff. Lineout calls, attacking shapes and defensive plans all have to be learned in this period, before the week-to-week intensity of must-win fixtures in league and cups. And, of course, there has to be time in which to develop individual and team skills.
In fact there is so much to learn that the real danger could be more mental than physical, though it won’t feel like that for the boys now in their second week of the pre-season period. Especially the biggest of the forwards, whose knees yearn for them to sit down and put their feet up.
And there’s still seven weeks to go until kick-off!