High impact season looms for All Blacks

Sam Cane
Sam Cane
The truth that no one wants to dwell on is that New Zealand's leading players could be involved in two minor car crashes in the next few months and it would be less traumatic on their bodies than the carnage that will be inflicted on the field.

The high impact sorts such as Sam Cane, Ardie Savea and Liam Squire will make an estimated 220-plus tackles in the next 40 weeks and be involved in close to 500 high velocity collisions.

They will cover an estimated 200-plus km at full pace game intensity and about the same again, if not more running metres at training.

They and many of their teammates will clock in excess of 100,000km of air travel and spend close to an entire week in planes and almost half the year away from their own beds.

As big as most players are; as conditioned and resilient as they tend to be, they are still the same organic composition as the rest of us – built with soft tissue and bones that weren't designed for the carnage they have to endure.

This is the modern rugby landscape – a 40-week marathon that is treated as a sprint, as evidenced by the fact that most of the country's leading players will be involved and brutal local derbies this weekend, knowing that in 36 weeks they will face one of the toughest five weeks in recent All Blacks' history when they face Australia, England and Ireland on their end of year tour.

The demands are extreme. Too much maybe but this is how the game turns the financial wheels and sustains itself and the only way everyone – Super Rugby, All Blacks and provincial teams – can get what they need, is to be willing to compromise.

And this ability to strike compromise agreements around workloads, game time and rest periods for leading players, is, unfortunately, one of the most critical elements of the high performance plan.

If New Zealand can collectively get this right, they automatically increase the likelihood of their leading teams being successful.

More specifically, they increase the likelihood of the All Blacks being successful as it is clearly going to take detailed and intricate planning to ensure that the likes of Owen Franks, Joe Moody, Sam Whitelock, Brodie Retallick, Cane, Squire, Beauden Barrett, Sonny Bill Williams and Ben Smith are all still capable of operating at 100% come late October and November.

New Zealand's inherent advantage is that the national body has ownership of both the players and the clubs. Friction, therefore, between Super Rugby coaches and All Blacks coaches can be minimised.

Super Rugby coaches, under intense pressure to deliver results and win games, are contractually obliged to resist the temptation to overplay their top men.

This isn't the case in England, where the privately owned clubs are forever in battle with the Rugby Football Union about almost everything.

Theirs is a system without collective alignment between club and country and therefore it is one without compassion or compromise.

Neither All Blacks coach Steve Hansen nor England head Eddie Jones would say this publicly, but what they both know privately, is that how their respective players are managed between now and November 10 when they meet at Twickenham, may be the factor which separates them.

It will be the same when the All Blacks play Australia in late October and Ireland the week after they play England – the margins will be so fine, the teams so evenly matched that any hint of physical fatigue or mental staleness will be exploited.

In other words, if the respective rugby fraternities of Ireland, England, Australia and New Zealand take too much out of their players in the next six months or so, they will pay the price in the most transparent way.

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