RATHBONE: A day in the life of a Super Rugby player

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June 6, 2005. Clyde Rathbone during Wallabies training in Coffs Harbour. AAP Image/Bruce Thomas

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Recently, whilst having coffee with a mate, I was provided some insight into how professional rugby players are perceived by much of the general public.

Or rather, how the job of professional sport is perceived.

My mate was expressing his lack of job satisfaction.

I’m paraphrasing, but I believe he said he had developed “a dark seed of hatred and contempt for the Australian Public Service.”

Putting aside the melodrama of his comments, I attempted to sympathise with his predicament.

He cut me off mid sentence with: “What would you know, you spent 10 years playing rugby. Getting paid to get fit, go to golf days and play a match on the weekend. Sounds like a real tough gig!”

As I pondered his comments and my need to find new friends, it did occur to me that few people understand what being a professional sports person is like.

Let me start by saying rugby is a fantastic job.

You get to travel the world with some of your best mates, doing the job you love, and getting well paid for it. If it appeared that this column might define the “plight” that is being a pro sportsperson, I’m going to have to disappoint.

Rather, I’m going to invite you (remember I’m looking for a new mate to replace the whinging one) to take a walk through a day in the life of a professional rugby player.

Let’s take a look at a Tuesday.

Tuesday is one of the busiest days of the week. It’s usually the most physically demanding day for players.

Most teams have now moved to electronic diaries. This way, coaches and managers can communicate changes to the schedule with the entire squad at the click of a button.

In the morning, players prepare for training at home.

For me, this involved a few rehabilitative ankle exercises, breakfast as designed by a dietician, and packing my kit bag for the morning session.

Any players that require pre-training physiotherapy or strapping arrive early so that they are ready to join the rest of the group.

After arriving at the training HQ, players break into units and head into the “computer room”. Units are often divided as: outside backs, inside backs, back rowers, tight five.

Within these groups, players will look at video of the team they will face on the weekend. The technology for game analysis is now advanced. It’s easy to condense and collect video clips of very specific game play.

As an example, outside backs can view kicking tendencies of the opposition and inside backs might take a look at how teams defend in their 22.

Forwards usually stare at the computer screen waiting for a back to explain how to switch on the “talking box.”

Notes are recorded and each group will elect a player to present their findings to the team during the afternoon’s team meeting.

From there, forwards and backs split up and head to the gym.

Training programs are individualised but sessions tend to be short and intense, aiming to get the best bang for buck without unduly adding to the training load.

From the gym, forwards and backs head to a field session.

Backs run through plays, do speed & skill work and iron out any timing or combination issues. Forwards do breakdown work, scrums and line-outs.

From the field session, players head to recovery.

Recovery involves a warm down, a stretch and hot and cold plunge pools. From there, it’s lunchtime, which is often provided onsite.

The early afternoon is open for physiotherapy, massage, sleep and general downtime before the next session.

Players are able to head home if they choose.

After 2-3 hours everyone reassembles for a team meeting. Team meetings cover schedule and travel information, media strategy and general info.

From there, coaches discuss strategy and players present to the group. The last 5 minutes is usually reserved for the captain to highlight important focus points.

The afternoon field session is high tempo, attempting to mimic game speed and intensity.

The team will move up and down the field running through various scenarios. Often, there is a fully-opposed session where one team will mimic the upcoming oppositions’ attacking and defensive traits.

After the field session there is usually a short conditioning block.

This is a “top up” session and meant to ensure that gains made during the pre season are retained. As per the morning session, recovery is completed and players make their way home in the early evening.

As you can probably tell, it’s hardly the most glamorous day imaginable. It’s a challenging, mentally and physically demanding day.

It’s also a lot of fun.

I should note that Wednesday is reserved for massages, movies, counting ones cash, golf days and throwing ones head back and laughing at the rest of the world.

Former Wallaby Clyde Rathbone has returned to Super Rugby with the ACT Brumbies, following an injury-forced retirement from all forms in 2009. He writes columns for The Roar and has made his return to top level rugby with the Brumbies. Follow Clyde at his blog or via his Twitter page.
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