less is more

Pre-season training just ain't what it used to be for rugby players

Rob Kearney points out how shorter, sharper sessions are better for everyone.

SPORTSMEN AND WOMEN will always complain about pre-season.

What they love doing is playing games and and competing on the field, but to get to that point they must first present themselves for the seemingly endless slog of training to get through before the big kick-off.

Except, neither ‘endless’ or ‘slog’ are the right words to accompany the modern rugby player’s summer preparation. At least not any more.

Rob Kearney Rests are well-earned. Kearney takes a breather from training earlier this month. Donall Farmer / INPHO Donall Farmer / INPHO / INPHO


Sports science is having an increasing impact in athletes of all grades rugby. Having come late to professionalism, it’s now essential that elite rugby sides dealing with bigger, faster players and therefore heavier impacts, be at the forefront.

Maybe it’s because Rob Kearney was sat in the clubhouse of Clondalkin RFC this week, closer to grassroots level than usual, that he began talking about the days when the methods were not quite so, well, methodical. The past decade has seen a big shift in how seriously clubs and coaches take sports science and the live information that can be gained from it.

“When [Michael] Cheika came in first we were running five or six kilometres a day. Whereas now there’s a bit more science behind it – hitting markers, using a lot of
GPS data.”

Kearney points out that there is no single indicator that would determine how ready a player is to enter a competitive setting. But in the later weeks of a course of pre-season there would certainly be a heavy scrutiny on speed consistency and heart rate to see how hard players were having to work to get to those levels.

“Pre-season is very much conditioning and strength based. Our strength coaches will have all your lower and upper limb targets depending on the exercises that you do  - there’s a really small gap between strongest and weakest now.”

Before he retired, Brian O’Driscoll would often say with a grin that “there was no hiding place” in training. Every lift, every sprint is recorded. The up side for players – aside from not getting burned out.

“It’s probably not as long, but when you’re working it’s that much harder,” Kearney says.

“I think we’re starting to realise over the last year or so that less is more. Provided that when you’re working, you’re working really hard and making good gains. That’s the mantra that we’re trying to bring to our training a little bit.”

Most likely, the fullback will not feature in blue before Leinster host Scarlets in the second week of the new season. So he still has a way to go before hitting his key performance indicators and getting out on the field to do what he knows best.

“Some of the guys were back two or three weeks before us. And it’s always been around
week five or six of pre-season that you’re getting fed up. They’re at that stage now and just looking forward to getting some games.”

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