'We want to give the All Blacks the best possible chance of winning the Rugby World Cup'
More than 20 of New Zealand's frontline All Blacks will miss a large portion of the 2007 Super 14 competition. A group of approximately 22 All Blacks will take part in an intensive "conditioning programme" during this period as part of the preparation for the Rugby World Cup in France, the New Zealand Rugby Union (NZRU) confirmed.
The programme was approved by the NZRU Board on Friday, August 18, following extensive consultation with the All Blacks coaches and management, the All Blacks, the Super 14 franchises, Sky TV, sponsors and the New Zealand Rugby Players' Association.
The players will join the Super 14 competition in Round Eight in April after participating in an individually tailored and intensive 12-week programme geared to get them into peak physical and mental shape for the Rugby World Cup campaign.
"We want to give the All Blacks the best possible chance of winning the Rugby World Cup," said NZRU CEO Chris Moller, "and it is clear the rugby public of New Zealand share that ambition. It is critical that our top players have the opportunity to prepare in the right way so that they are in the best shape of their lives when they get to France.
"Sports science research and our coaches tell us that the players need a continuous window when they can do the necessary physical conditioning work without the rigours of playing top level rugby at the same time. The challenge has been to find that window."
Moller said that the NZRU Board had considered a number of other options but, based on a variety of factors including learning from past RWC campaigns and the sports science advice available, it was agreed that January to April was the best window.
"We would not want to take the leading players out of November's tour to Europe or next year's Philips Tri Nations. There needs to be a conditioning window following the end of the 2006 season, which will require those players to miss the first seven rounds of the 2007 Super 14 competition.
"This timing will maximise the benefits of the conditioning activity as it follows the summer break for the All Blacks, who will then be able to start their conditioning programme fresh."
It is envisaged that those players, who are not selected for the conditioning programme, but who are in contention for World Cup selection, will take a full part in their Super 14 campaigns and undertake some recovery and reconditioning activity after that Tournament.
All Blacks Coach Graham Henry noted that the selected All Blacks would be hard at work during the conditioning window.
"The team's strength and conditioning coaches will have the players on intensive training programmes, and they will monitor those programmes closely, along with trainers within each Franchise."
Henry said that player welfare remained a key issue for the NZRU and All Blacks Management and the conditioning programme was a response to the demands of test match rugby and the desire of the coaches to have the team in peak condition for Rugby World Cup.
All Blacks strength and conditioning coach Graham Lowe said the conditioning programme was a key part of the team's Rugby World Cup preparations and specific programmes would be developed for each player, focused on the player's specific requirements and having regard to the timing of the World Cup.
The conditioning programme, which has been under consideration by the NZRU since March, has the support of the Union's principal partner, adidas, and broadcasting partner, Sky New Zealand, as well as the All Blacks and Union's sponsors, including the Super 14 competition sponsor in New Zealand, Rebel Sport.
Rebel Sport General Manager Steve Salmon said the conditioning programme and the drive to ensure the All Blacks had the best possible preparations for RWC 2007 had the full support of his company, as winning would help expand all of the future opportunities for New Zealand rugby.
"We are a great believer in the Super 14 and, in particular, the excitement and entertainment of the competition as players showcase their rugby talents. While the absence of some players might be seen as a negative, we believe there is also genuine interest in seeing new players taking their opportunities at this level. As has been the case in a number of instances in recent years, we look forward to seeing who will step up in 2007."
Sky Television Chief Executive John Fellett said his network was also fully supportive of the All Blacks approach to winning the Rugby World Cup.
"We support and broadcast rugby at all levels from community rugby right through to All Blacks Test matches, so if something is good for New Zealand rugby, it's also good for Sky. An All Blacks win in Rugby World Cup, is what our fans want, so we are pleased to support this initiative and we are looking forward to an intriguing and compelling year of rugby."
adidas New Zealand managing director Greig Bramwell said adidas, as principal sponsor of the NZRU and of the All Blacks, shared those views.
"adidas is passionate about sport and in New Zealand, we are passionate in our support for New Zealand rugby. Like any partner, we also want to see success and we firmly believe that this approach will give the All Blacks a great platform from which to prepare and perform at Rugby World Cup."
New Zealand Rugby Players Association Executive Director Rob Nichol said that given the current landscape initiatives such as the conditioning programme provide for the best chance of success on the international stage and also assist in preserving the welfare of our players.
"We are supportive of the programme. It is another initiative designed to assist us in managing the demands on our international players for the benefit of the individual, the team and New Zealand rugby.
"The Conditioning Programme is providing an opportunity for our leading players to step back from the playing environment to rebuild themselves physically in terms of strength, speed and skills, while also refreshing themselves mentally all things that can not happen to the extent that is required given the prolonged nature of the current season," said Nichol.
"It is important for everyone to understand that it is not a rest the players identified will be on a structured and intensive physical training programme designed to produce the results sought and place them in the best possible physical and mental condition from which to undertake the challenges of next season and perform to their potential "
Nichol said the absence of the selected conditioning players from the Super 14 does create a number of challenges but from a player perspective, there were also new opportunities.
"New Zealand's rugby depth will be tested but we believe the talent, from a coach, player and administrative perspective is there. It is now up to us all to work on doing everything possible to give them the best chance of succeeding."
"From a public perspective we want to encourage the fans to be understanding of what the programme is attempting to achieve and to get in behind and support the New Zealand Rebel Sport Super 14 teams as they in turn step up to meet the challenge."
The conditioning programme has been the subject of extensive stakeholder consultation including numerous meetings with the Rebel Sport Super 14 Franchises, all of whom have endorsed the proposal in principle, with the majority also supporting the detail.
Chris Moller said: "We've talked with our stakeholders and the me
ssage back has been that what's best for the All Blacks and New Zealand rugby is ultimately good for everyone involved in the game. There's a shared sense of determination to win and we are extremely grateful for the support. Understandably, the Rebel Sport Super 14 Franchises have expressed some concerns around their campaigns in 2007 and have worked with us to develop some initiatives to mitigate those concerns."
The Super 14 franchises will all operate with an expanded squad next season, said Moller, under protocols established in consultation with the Super 14 franchises and the Players' Association.
The players who will participate in the conditioning programme during Super 14 will be announced after the All Blacks' Tri-Nations' campaign.