Health and Fitness Column

Kiwi rugby team can’t explain it

By John Taylor | Nov 13, 2012
Photo by: File John Taylor

I played three years of rugby while attending high school in Seattle, and two years with the club team at Western Carolina University.  While I love the game, the lack of success that American rugby players have seen in international competition tends to be a sore subject.
Though Americans dominant Olympic sports like track and field, gymnastics, and volleyball, rugby is a game in which the United States usually ends up on the losing end.
One reason to explain why Americans keep getting their tails kicked is due to the conditioning of other international teams. I came to this notion after playing the junior national squad from Canada during my senior year of high school. We lost the game 70-5, and 55 of Canada’s 70 points were scored in the second half. I just remembered that their conditioning was much better than ours, and while we were gasping for air, the Canadians looked like they could play another two or three more matches.
I was reminded of this humbling experience when I watched the 2011 Rugby World Cup. At the end of the 20-nation tournament, New Zealand hoisted their first World Cup trophy since 1987. However, what I was the most surprised by was that New Zealand, whose national team is known as the All Blacks, didn’t win because of their superior play and athleticism. Instead, the All Blacks were able to win their sport’s biggest championship because their fitness and conditioning levels were far more advanced than their opponents.
Case in point, New Zealand scored 240 points in their four group stage games. The next closest was France with 128 points. But if you examine how the All Blacks scored, you’ll notice 183 of those 240 points came in the second half of games, indicating that the New Zealand opposition couldn’t keep up with them.
Don’t get me wrong, there are other national rugby teams who attempt to develop superior levels of conditioning. The headquarters for the Wales’ squad is actually located in an area of Poland where temperatures often dip below freezing levels, forcing the team to practice in extreme cold. South Africa even practices in Tanzania near Mt. Kilimanjaro to take advantages of the training benefits of working out in altitude.  
But when All Blacks coach Ian Foster was asked what his squad does to demonstrate a higher level of fitness than their opponents, his response was, “We don’t know what they do. What’s important to us is having our players on the park with a full tank of gas.”
Notice how the coach deflected the question without actually mentioning the teams conditioning methods.
Tell you what, let’s examine the All Blacks 2012 schedule. So far this year, the New Zealand in 10-4-2 in international competition, but three of their loses came in a seven day period when they had five starters on the sidelines with injuries, and still played against Argentina and two games against South Africa.
But when at full health, the All Blacks have outscored their opponents 330-128, with New Zealand scoring 228 of their points in the second half.
So how is it that the world class athletes on the All Blacks squad continue to dominant international competition? I understand that other nations keep saying that New Zealand seems to have superior conditioning, but aren’t these countries using the same training methods to improve their stamina that New Zealand is using.
I’ll stop short of saying that there is a Lance Armstrong-esque doping conspiracy being performed by the All Blacks, but one thing is for sure. If the United States is looking to compete with the All Blacks when rugby returns to the Olympics in 2016, they should implement the same training regimen that the New Zealand players use for their superior fitness.
That is, if the All Black coach will ever state what the players do for their fitness routines. Strange he is so tight lipped about it, right?

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