Ireland using Algarve base to acclimatise ahead of Rugby World Cup
Squad training in similar temperatures but replicating Japan’s humidity is impossible
Ireland’s Bundee Aki and Rory Best during training at The Campus, Faro, Portugal, where they the squad have been since last Wednesday. Photograph: Dan Sheridan/Inpho
Last summer in Ireland would have been ideal for some warm weather training in readiness for the World Cup in Japan, but predictably this year has not been fit for purpose.
So it is that the Irish squad have decamped to Portugal for eight days and while the World Cup opener against Scotland is still more than four weeks away, acquainting themselves with the heat of the Algarve can only be beneficial.
Ireland’s scrum coach Greg Feek has a better working knowledge of playing rugby in Japan than anyone else in the Irish squad. He has spent the last two years there coaching REC Rockets while maintaining his role with Ireland during Test windows, before he relocates to Japan permanently after the World Cup, thus ending a 10-year association with Leinster and Irish rugby.
Confirming that the weather conditions will be hot, humid and unpredictable, as it is also Japan’s rainy season, Feek believes the heatwaves in continental Europe make this trek to Quinta de Lago, a popular Irish holiday destination, all the more useful.
“Even just being away from home a bit and out of your comfort zone a little bit [will also be helpful], even if Portugal is a fantastic place to be like the rest of Ireland,” said Feek. “It will be good in terms of that. We will knuckle down, we have got some good facilities. It is also good to get the group good and tight together, some camaraderie.”
Since arriving in their Algarve base last Wednesday, the Irish squad have had a few morning sessions in temperatures of about 25 degrees and a few mid-afternoon sessions where it has been closer to 28/29 degrees.
That is more or less what it is going to be like in Japan in terms of heat, but it’s impossible to replicate the humidity, which was about 40 per cent this week but will be double that in Japan.
In Tokyo at 9pm last night the humidity was 84 per cent, and it was still 28 degrees. While the temperatures and humidity are expected to drop come the end of September, it will remain hot and stifling. This will definitely be a factor for Ireland’s first two games against Scotland and the hosts, which kick-off at 4.45pm and 4.15pm local time, and, of course, are only six days apart.
“It’s a good opportunity to work hard in some fairly hot conditions,” said Ireland captain Rory Best. “The down days are brilliant, to get away. Some boys will go to the beach and some will play golf. Some will just hang around somewhere. That’s the sort of stuff that will be good, just to spend a bit more time together.
“I’m sure the squad will be trimmed down a little bit and it’s just to get away from the distractions of other things. When you’ve a down day in Ireland, you get a little bit disjointed whereas when we’re all away together, we’ll all have a down day together. We’ll probably go out for dinner certainly in a couple of big groups if not the entire group together.
“It’s something you take for granted because everyone knows each other so well through the provincial set-ups and it’s a reasonably established and settled squad and you can take for granted sometimes that you need to spend a bit of time together and find out what’s going on, find out how CJ [Stander] got on at the birth of his child and congratulate him.
“The rumours are he fainted from it all but I’m not sure they’re true! Just little silly things like that, to chat about anything other than rugby and spending time getting to know people.”
Part of the RFU’s thinking in hiring Eddie Jones for this World Cup cycle was assuredly the former Japan head coach’s extensive knowledge of the host country. Prior to England’s opening warm-up game against Wales, Jones took his squad to the sweltering heat and humidity of Treviso, in north-eastern Italy, in order to experience conditions akin to those that await in Japan.
Uppermost in seeking to emulate the conditions that are expected to prevail in Japan were working with a greasy ball in such humidity. For the hookers, line-out throwing was particularly challenging according to Jamie George.
“It was difficult,” admitted the Saracens and England hooker. “It doesn’t rain too much over there but the ball does get extremely slippery so it was a different type of challenge. We didn’t use too many towels, so we didn’t get too much opportunity to dry the balls. It was a tough challenge but one you had to get your head around.”
The Irish squad will move on to London on Thursday after revealing a much changed but more familiar line-up to face England in Twickenham next Saturday.
With Jones also set to revert to a stronger looking side after last Saturday’s 13-6 defeat by Wales – whom Ireland face in back-to-back warm-up games – this Portuguese training camp may prove more beneficial in the longer than shorter term. But that was always the plan.
Next Saturday week, Ireland are back in Cardiff to face Wales, the newly anointed number one side in the world after a run of 15 wins in 16 Tests. The highlight of these was, of course, their Grand Slam-clinching win last March when Ireland’s decision to insist on leaving the roof open backfired when forced to play catch-up with the rain-sodden from early on, so prompting Brian O’Driscoll to tweet: “Can we have the roof closed now please?”
Ironically, with Japan in mind and all the more so if it is a hot day in Cardiff, there is an argument for having the Principality Stadium roof closed come the 2pm kick-off on Saturday week and so make conditions more stifling and the ball slippery.