Massive physicality of Northampton and Leinster a reminder of the worth of hard bodies
Former trainer Paul Darbyshire popped into my head, a hard man who was taken by Motor Neuron Disease
Northampton Saints’ Ken Pisi is tackled by Leinster’s Dave Kearney last weekend. Photo: Billy Stickland/Inpho
At the Aviva on Saturday, the ferocity and physicality really stood out. It really made a mockery of the idea put forward by some English journalists and ex-players – Austin Healey for one – that the reason for Leinster’s huge win in the first game was that Northampton lacked freshness due to such a tough schedule in the English Premiership.
Surely if that was the case, they would have been even less fresh last Saturday?
Instead they were massively physical, full of running and energy. Some of their players put in enormous hits – the likes of Tom Wood, Courtney Lawes and Samu Manoa especially. You can’t produce those kinds of performances if you’re tired.
And anyway, at this point in the season, the idea that the Irish provinces have some sort of advantage fitness-wise is just wrong. Yes, the front-line Irish players have fewer miles on the clock right now than players at English and French clubs but the benefit of that at this point in the season should be in the amount of injuries they’ve picked up, not the levels of energy they have. If there is a case to be made for English and French players being more tired than Irish ones, you can make it next April and May. Not now.
Northampton got hammered by Leinster two weeks ago because their attitude was wrong and because Leinster were excellent. It was nothing to do with them being tired. In fact, just now is the point of the season where players should be reaching their physical peak.
The whole point of pre-season training is for players to come into these coming months with their bodies hardened. Pre-season is when you get rid of all the niggles and start loading up the body and building muscle. Once you start playing games on top of all that work, you feel yourself coming around to the sort of condition you need to be in.
There was something about the sheer level of hardness and hitting in the game that made Paul Darbyshire pop into my head over the weekend. Paul joined Munster as a strength and conditioning coach in the summer of 2007. He came from rugby league and had been with Warrington for a long time.
Paul was a hard man. In a rugby dressing room, the best S&C coaches are the ones who are ready to get stuck in and do the same work as the players. Straight away, a guy like that gets respect from everyone. Paul was older than us, in his late 30s, and yet he took pride in being able to do the exercises he was pushing us to do.
There would be lots of times when you’d be absolutely hanging, thinking you couldn’t push the pain threshold another inch and Paul would be there telling you to quit complaining, that, if an old guy like him could do it, you had no excuse. I often thought some of the things he was asking us to do were unrealistic but then he’d go and show us up by doing them himself.
I remember one pre-season, we were in Boston at Harvard University. Paul had us doing a session on the bench followed by 50 chin-ups. You got off the bench with your arms feeling like they weighed a ton each and then had to go straight to the bar for the chin-ups. It was complete torture. But Paul was able to do it.