You really enjoyed your off-season, didn’t you? That beach holiday was great, with the bare minimum of exercise and the snoozing all afternoon. Utter bliss.
However, you can never relax for too long, once your rugby season is over, because you know that the horrors of pre-season are on the horizon. It’s still a number of weeks away, but it looms in the background like the world’s ugliest photo-bomber. Sun, sweat and probably tears await: pre-season is the most horrid part of summer.
So how do you get by? Well, we can’t do your hill sprints for you, but we can tell you what to expect. Here’s a rough guide, a timeline if you will, that tries to explain what you should expect amidst the terror.
First day back
There will be a nervous energy in the changing rooms. New players may have turned up, scared and unfamiliar but trying to act slightly aloof. Some of you will trade stories of your off-season hi-jinks; it is an effort to alleviate the obvious tension. The first session can never be good.
The coaches will address you, thanking you for coming back and for the conditioning work you will have done by yourself (you most likely haven’t done any). Then you’ll play a bit of touch or do some light drills.
Then drills will get harder. And harder. You realize your footwear is probably wrong [in fact you’re quickly umming and ahhhing as to whether you should go for new Adidas, Canterbury, or Kooga boots]; you totally forgot there’s no contact this early in pre-season and so you’re wearing your gumshield for no reason at all. Everything will hurt the next day.
Then there’s the sting in the tail. You have the final few sprints to end the session on a crushing low. Day one is done.
End of your first month
You are used to the rhythms by now. You know you still only need your ‘mouldies’ instead of aggressively-studded boots, and your headguard plus body armour would only make you sweat more. You’ve grown very close to some team-mates, having had to pick them up, put them down, wrestle them, and sweat on them. You still dread the sting in the tail, but you’re resigned to the fact it is hard for the sake of being hard. Your evenings have at least a semblance of predictability – all the cones and balls and poles and ladders and nets and tyres and hoops and kitchen sinks have come out for the first two thirds of training, and then the final third is something painfully old-school, as your coach blasts a whistle and you sprint or hit the dirt. However, that will all change…
By this stage you have had planning meetings and a bit of team-building. Maybe even a night out midway through pre-season, perhaps prefixed with a barbecue on the Saturday after training, and everyone enjoys sharing their war stories. But some of the chat has revolved around how the team will play next season.
This is the time when the coaches start to bring in ‘real-life scenarios’ – the game-related drills. It’s all part of the grand plan, but you can’t really see that yet as you stumble into your first tackling drill, realising too late that you haven’t brought your gumshield or headguard and body armour with you that night. Rucking and scragging and shoving is coming in and there’s still the sting in the tail. Misery once more.
You’ve gotten used to the contact stuff. The forwards have done some set-piece work and the backs have sized each other up in drills designed to encourage shape. A lot of the fitness sessions now have teams, and contact work is done with greater numbers. Even the pre-training touch has an element of the telepathic to it, as mates become familiar with each other’s styles and lines.
A team-building camp may have been undertaken as the squad heads to a military camp for a few days – one of the oddest recurring themes of pre-season, the military camp – but all the best bonding has been done smashing each other. So now it’s time to tie it all together and play some inter-squad friendlies or, if you’re lucky, play against another team!
The season begins
And after all this – the vomit and the grazed knees from dried-out turf and maybe even fighting with your pals – you’re ready for the new season. The cocktails and kebabs seem a long way off now…