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Dublin: 12°C Tuesday 20 October 2020
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A day in the life: Behind the scenes with Bernard Jackman's Grenoble

The42 spent the day with the Top 14 side as they prepare to face Munster.

WITH JUST 11 days left until the start of their Top 14 campaign, French side Grenoble are in Ireland for a pre-season tour.

Head coach Bernard Jackman, backs coach Mike Prendergast, scrum-half James Hart, centre Chris Farrell and prop Denis Coulson are all back on home soil for the week-long visit.

Huddle 2

Grenoble ran in eight tries last Friday as they beat Pat Lam’s Connacht 52-19 in the Sportsground, and they now look forward to facing Anthony Foley’s Munster this coming Friday at Thomond Park in their second and final friendly of the summer.

The42 spent yesterday with Jackman’s squad as they prepared to meet the southern province, taking a look at how the Top 14 club goes about their business behind the scenes.

07.00 – Petit dejeuner

The day begins for the team with breakfast in the Castletroy Park Hotel, Grenoble’s base for the duration of their stay in Limerick. Eggs, bacon, porridge and fruit are the staples of the morning meal, although the French players have underlined that they hate porridge.

Fuelling up for the training day ahead is essential and the players largely arrive down to the team’s dining room early in the two-hour window during which food is served, allowing themselves ample time to digest before getting to work.

10.00 – Boulot

Back in France, Grenoble’s training day begins much earlier than 10.00, but the fact that Friday night’s opponents Munster have the gym facilities in the University of Limerick booked out for the morning means Jackman’s men start later than usual.

T.Bianchin / FCG Source: T.Bianchin/FCG

For the purposes of this stage in Ireland, the squad of 40 players is split into three training groups for gym work: one comprising the front five players, another involving the halfbacks and back rows, and a final group comprising of the outside backs.

The three groups’ musculation sessions have staggered starting times, meaning they each have their own one-hour block in UL’s state-of-the-art National Strength and Conditioning Centre.

Activation

The gym sessions under strength and conditioning coach Gareth Adamson, who worked with Conor O’Shea at Harlequins previously, begin with ‘activation’, whereby the players awaken their bodies for the physical demands ahead.

Activation

Thera bands, foam rollers, squat-to-stand and lumbar movements, balancing stations and lower-back stability exercises are all part of the 15-minute preparation.

Muscu

Each of the three training groups has slightly different focuses in their gym sessions, although Adamson explains that the load “is not particularly heavy,” given that Grenoble played last Friday and face Munster in four days’ time.

The bulk of their pre-season slog is behind them, but that doesn’t reduce the intensity of the effort. The front-five forwards, including Irishman Coulson, burst into their session involving box jumps and one-legged squats to begin with.

Box Jump

Several of the front rows’ individualised programmes also call for them to work up to heavy front or back squats in the racks.

Gym

Adamson and fellow S&C specialist Patrick Chassaing are constantly encouraging and coaxing more from the players, with cues like “explosivité” and “énergie” stressing the need for the players to attack the power exercises.

Jammer

A variation on the jammer brings the players’ upper bodies into the session, with Adamson and Chassaing asking for full extension at the top of an explosive exercise.

T.Bianchin / FCG Source: T.Bianchin/FCG

Much of Grenoble’s workout involves supersets, meaning there is little or no standing around in between sets. Even without supersets, the players work on less taxing rehab-style exercises after their main set, ensuring the pace of the session is relentless.

With the bulk of the weightlifting complete, the gym portion of the day ends with a core circuit involving four different stations.

T.Bianchin / FCG Source: T.Bianchin/FCG

The dreaded ab wheel rollouts are understandably unpopular.

Prehab

The front-five forwards finish their gym session at 11.00, with the halfbacks and back rows ready to head into the gym next, having already completed their prehab session in the room next door.

Prehab

While that second group gets stuck into weights under the attentive eyes of Adamson and Chassaing, the back three players make their way into the prehab area to work on avoiding potential injuries.

The front-five forwards carry out this portion of the training day after their gym session, perhaps not the ideal time, but in a week where changed locations and timings mean a reshuffle, they make it work.

T.Bianchin / FCG Source: T.Bianchin/FCG

Each player has their own focus in this session, depending on prior injuries, current niggles or flexibility issues. Thera bands, broomsticks and some advanced stretching techniques are all on display.

11.45 – Process

As the halfbacks and back rows are still lifting weights and the outside backs are busy prehabbing, the front-five forwards are already out on the pitch in the UL Bowl with their boots on.

Their scrum work for the day begins with ‘process’, a short session that concentrates on the most technical aspects of the set-piece, rather than pure power and combat.

“We would usually do process after our gym session on a Tuesday, which would generally be a heavy squat session,” says 21-year-old Coulson, who made his Top 14 debut for Grenoble last season.

Process

“It’s technical stuff, no heavy pushing, just positional work and timing for about 15 or 20 minutes. Then we’d go straight into five-on-five scrummaging while the back row are finishing their weights.

We’ll scrum for a bit of stability work, nothing too heavy.”

The heavier stuff will come later in the day when the full squad is on the pitch together for their main session, but the ‘process’ is overseen by Sylvain Bégon and director of rugby Fabrice Landreau, both former hookers.

Analysis

All the while in the background, long-serving analyst Cyril Villain is recording the session for analysis later in the day, as he does every time Grenoble are on the pitch.

The video tower in the image above is particularly useful for scrum sessions, providing a different angle for review.

12.00 – Lanceurs

With the short and snappy ‘process’ concluded, the front five immediately move on to another 15-minute block that works the hookers’ throwing.

Lanceurs

The locks and props are part of the ‘lanceurs’ (throwers) efforts, as they provide static and moving pods for Arnaud Héguy, Anthony Hegarty and Laurent Bouchet to find with their darts.

12.15 – Skills

The halfbacks and back rows arrive on the pitch as the ‘lanceurs’ finish, gym work completed and ready to have their passing improved by specialist skills coach Philippe Doussy.

Formerly part of the coaching teams with Italy, the Southern Kings and Edinburgh, Doussy is an eccentric, enthusiastic presence, starting the session with rapid repetitions of one-metre passes.

T.Bianchin / FCG Source: T.Bianchin/FCG

Five minutes later, the drill has changed as the players receive a pop and then fire their pass to a static target.

Skills 1

Doussy, along with backs coach Prendergast and head coach Jackman, demands quality from the players in every rep, punishing any poor passes with three press-ups to reinforce the message.

Skills

Unsurprisingly, halfbacks Hart, Charl McLeod and Jonathan Wisniewski look to be the sharpest passers in the group, with the pair of scrum-halves firing some particularly aesthetically-pleasing efforts.

With the passing portion of the skills session complete, Jackman then takes the group for a short stint of working on their go-to shapes off ruck ball. The physical intensity is again low, but the demand for accuracy in the pass and running lines remains.

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13.00 – Video

After a 15-minute walk back to the team hotel, forwards coach Bégon leads the first video portion of the day, beginning with an examination of Grenoble’s scrum efforts during the win over Connacht.

Bégon makes use of various clips taken from recent ‘process’ sessions to reinforce his points about shortcomings or positives in the scrummaging performance against Connacht, allowing him to underline the technical issues he flags.

The forwards coach moves on to review the lineout display with technical depth relating to lifters, the calling, dummy pods and more. Finally, he moves onto a highly-detailed outline of maul defence on a whiteboard.

Video 1

Defending mauls is a key focus at this stage of the pre-season for Grenoble, as they add in tactical aspects of that nature week-on-week, having worked hard on restarts in the lead-up to the Connacht game.

Bégon has the players stand and walk through the maul defence roles after he presents, again reinforcing the learnings ahead of putting them into practice later in the afternoon out on the pitch.

13.30 – Repas

After a busy morning of training, it’s time for the players to get food onboard again as they move into the dining room adjacent to their spacious team room.

Lunch

Pork fillet, pasta, broccoli, turnip and low-fat gravy are served up to 40 ravenous players, with a wide range of fresh salads on offer too. Some of the French players are a little hesitant with the turnip this time, but they soldier on.

14.00 to 16.00 – Sieste

With the meal finished, the players have a two-hour break to rest up before the heavy evening session. Many head to their rooms to nap or just put the feet up, while others opt to relax in the team room.

Team Room

Table tennis, pool, darts and foosball are among the entertainment options, while the gamers are catered for with an in-demand Xbox. Even at ‘sieste’ time, the FIFA competitiveness is fierce.

Staff

In another corner of the room, Landreau, Villain and some of the other staff are busy at work, while Jackman and Prendergast have their heads buried in laptops in quieter spots doing analysis.

16.00 – Video

After a hard-earned break, the players are sitting and waiting in their seats well before the scheduled 16.00 starting time for the second video session of the day, clearly hungry to get back to work.

Jackman’s influence as head coach becomes even more apparent as he takes charge of a review that starts by looking at some of Grenoble’s defensive efforts against Connacht.

Video

His communication in French is concise and detail-heavy. There is criticism for aspects of the play, but all of it constructive. Individual errors are highlighted and questioned, but there are always positive messages too.

Jackman takes the players through their shape in phase play against Pat Lam’s side, as well as counter-attack and their use of turnover ball. The video session ends on a lighthearted note, as young fullback Robinson Caire is picked out for ‘big hit’ of the week.

17.00 – Units

S&C coach Adamson takes the players through a high-tempo warm-up as soon as they arrive back on the pitch at the UL Bowl, Munster’s afternoon session again meaning that Grenoble start much later than would be usual at home in France.

Backs

Thereafter, the forwards and backs split for their unit sessions, with Prendergast taking the backs and Bégon again in charge of the pack. Jackman moves between the groups, providing intermittent cues and encouragement but allowing his assistants space to do their coaching.

We did a lot of passing under pressure,” says centre Chris Farrell of the backs’ efforts under Prendergast. “We went to our plays off set-piece, off mauls, off scrums after that.

“It’s all about doing those things under pressure, putting that pressure on yourself to do it better. Mike’s definitely hefty on that and it’s definitely tightened up our skills as a group.”

Backs

After the earlier skills session had been unopposed, Prendergast tests his backs by having defenders bear down on them, and the pace of the session is hugely impressive. Decision-making skills are called on too as ex-Munster man Prendergast changes the shape of the defence coming at the attacking line.

The backs coach echoes Jackman with his succinct communication in French, applauding good contributions and stressing the need for better when a rare error creeps in. Fullback Gio Aplon and Irishman Farrell are particular standouts in the backs’ unit section.

Up the other end of the pitch, the Grenoble forwards are putting the maul defence theory they went through before lunch into action. It’s a full-on affair as the various sizeable units test each other and Bégon calls time on the mauling just as the first punch looks close.

Injury (1)

Players currently on the comeback from injury are put through their paces on the sidelines too, even those unable to move about without the use of crutches. Doussy ensures the incapacitated players are at least working on their passing skills.

17.30 – Rugby collectif

Jackman brings the entire playing group together on the pitch for the first time following the unit split, reiterating the key factors he wants his men to bring to a collective defensive session.

Huddle

The head coach sends his players into a series of drills that test their individual reactions and subsequent hitting power in the tackle, as well as the ability to rapidly organise and produce the linespeed he desires.

After working the defence in relatively confined spaces at first, Jackman then sends the players to Adamson for the first of their fitness ‘top ups’ of the training session, an indicator that pre-season isn’t totally finished yet.

Top Up

These are five-minute blasts of fitness for the entire squad, the first one involving lung-burning 100-metre shuttles, before Jackman brings them back into a new defensive drill that requires more space to be covered.

Defence

Working under fatigue is what the head coach is aiming for, testing the work-rate, communication and concentration skills of his players as they look to shut down two attacking lines either side of a midfield ruck.

“We were working on our linespeed, which is clearly important,” says scrum-half James Hart, who previously worked with Jackman at Clontarf FC. “We’re trying to get both sides of the defence moving up as well, closing their space.

Linespeed

“We’re looking to get off the line and put pressure on their nine, because I know myself as a nine that there’s nothing worse than someone hounding you at the breakdown. It’s linespeed, staying together and trying to make positive tackles.

Last season, our defence let us down at times and now we’re trying to make it one of the positive parts of our game. I think it’s something you can feed off in games if you’ve got a good defence. We’re trying to get the small details right.”

Jackman runs the players through non-contact and contact versions of the same drills, separated by another ‘top up’ that sees the players running shorter shuttles. The head coach wraps the collective session with some general movement work, the tempo again high and the players’ enthusiasm clear.

18.15 – Melee et extras

There is a final split between backs and forwards before the day’s training ends, as the forwards work with Bégon and Landreau again on their scrums, but this time with eight-man packs.

Scrum

The coaching points from earlier in the day are stressed again, as the front rows hammer into each other over the course of an intense 15 minutes.

Ball

Prendergast and Doussy split the backs into two mini-groups, with one working on fielding kicks and the others looking at their skills after making busts of the opposition defence.

19.00 – Recuperation et reunion

Back in the hotel, most players head for a stretch and recovery session in the swimming pool, while many also opt for ice baths after a taxing day on the legs. The coaching staff meet at 19.30 to review the day and prepare for a similar schedule on Thursday.

Dinner is served at 20.00, before all involved put the feet up, resume the FIFA competition and look forward to a well-earned day off on Tuesday.

– First published 07.00

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About the author:

Murray Kinsella

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