All Blacks Relax Before Argentine Barrage

All Blacks relax
Kieran Read, Aaron Smith, Conrad Smith and Ben Smith of the All Blacks relax during a New Zealand All Blacks training session at San Isidro Sports Club on September 26, 2014 in Buenos Aires, Argentina. (Photo by Cameron Spencer/Getty Images)

On a rugby tour, downtime can be the one complaint. Nobody can play ‘all the time’. You can’t either train ‘all the time’ so relaxation and balance is key. After arriving in Argentina, it was important that the All Blacks relax before they faced an Argentine ‘barrage’ on Saturday.

A healthy team environment is both challenging, and also supported. The better the environment, the better the team performs. So leading up to this weekends test match, staff would plan on a healthy balance. Training will have only just begun [in Argentina] so besides the demands of media and sponsors, team members need to acclimatize quickly to their surrounds–for the All Blacks, that always includes ‘having a laugh’.

All Blacks Relax Before Argentine Barrage

Captain Kieran Read leads a touring group of 33 players. They have arrived in Buenos Aires and need to take a breath, before hitting the ground running. By Saturday, his men must be prepared to face Argentina in The Rugby Championship.

Between the senior leadership group and management, the All Blacks are very used to traveling. Coach Steve Hansen has referred to “travelling half way around the world, and having to perform”. Those statements are true in today’s professional rugby world. To perform well, a critical component is that the All Blacks relax first.

Team Manager Darren Shand (below) is the most pivotal member of staff to promote this component. While logistics and administration are fundamentals, Shand arranges for entertainment and activities.

All Blacks relax
Team Manager Darren Shand at the All Blacks team Captain’s Run at Eden Park on June 10, 2016 in Auckland, New Zealand.

Team members might be given roles–music, movies or sports–so the attached video of a ‘golf challenge’ would have been planned before the team left New Zealand. In the past, other activities include sailing, petanque, go karts and many more activities. Card games, pool/snooker are still popular, and of course a guitar is mandatory entertainment.

They must be within boundaries though. No sky diving, or dangerous sports….for obvious reasons. It is designed to relax, not to be ‘life threatening’.

All components designed to build on performance

Beside relaxation, nutritional planning, physical and strength conditioning are all planned for. A big team are involved here, and then there are the coaches. Hansen, Ian Foster, Grant Fox and the staff all contribute. Fortunate enough to have attended several All Blacks training sessions myself, it is a well managed spread of intensity, and time for a laugh.

All components are designed to build on performance. Any side includes players with different personalities–everyone from Israel Dagg (below) to Owen Franks. Two very different men, each needs to be supported, and have varying needs. Dagg: the funny guy, would want to ‘chill out’. Franks: the big guy, might have specific nutritional needs that are managed–avoiding over-indulgence while on tour is crucial too.

Dagg laughs
Israel Dagg and Kieran Read share a laugh after winning the Rugby Championship match between New Zealand and Argentina. (Photo Anthony Au-Yeung/Getty Images)

The All Blacks relax in different ways, but all being holed-up in a hotel might bring problems itself. Training can break-up the monotony. Focus on task and working to a plan. Post-training, there is physiotherapy, even Yoga sessions for players like Beauden Barrett. All those elements combined seamlessly. And that is where Shand directly contributes towards victory on Saturday.

A well managed team, is a high-performing team

Having won four-out-of-four Rugby Championship matches, they now hold the 2016 Championship. Formally, Read should be presented the trophy next weekend in South Africa [win or lose]. That means they still need to be motivated to perform over the last two matches of the tournament. So if the All Blacks relax too much, they could be victim to a barrage from Argentina if they are ‘dozy’.

Ian Foster told reporters “You really have to give a lot of credit to Argentina. They really played with a great attitude in that first 40 [in Hamilton] and took it to us. Off-loaded well, played a high continuity game and kept the ball moving. They did it very, very well.

“They continued that last week [against Australia] and they would probably be a little disappointed they weren’t able to capitalize a little bit more on some of the opportunities they had but they are a good team when they are able to do that,” he said.

Players must be ‘switched on’ by game day

A mutual respect between both sides is apparent. It has been two years since the All Blacks visited Argentina, so the anticipation is high. For all the beauty, hospitality and differences that players will experience in Buenos Aires, they must keep that balance. The game is on Saturday night; on Sunday morning in New Zealand. It means they must be ‘switched on’ by game day, ready for anything. And as professionals, each have their roles to play.

Yesterday, the All Blacks relax. They laughed with each other and had a joke. Some say, that is the best medicine. Today, they trained, they bonded and then they take precious time to ‘chill out’. It is a balance that this side have perfected over a decade. A period of sustained high-performance.

By game day, the end result is the shared goal. Win or lose, they will shake each others hands, return to the hotel, sleep, pack, and then be ready to travel to South Africa. Once they arrive in Durban, jetlag will need to be managed. So this same process is repeated–All Blacks relax first, then build into their ‘jobs’ before running out to play the opposition.

Simple plan, yet undoubtedly, effective. 15 consecutive International victories (including the Rugby World Cup) is evidence that the All Blacks have mastered performance, as much as the precursor to that–relaxation.

“Main photo credit”

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