Michael Cheika’s screams, Gavin Henson’s tan and language barriers – the ups and downs of pre-season

“All your ducks are swans in pre-season.” That’s the nugget I got from a rugby coach with 25 years’ experience in the game as I left for Grenoble in 2011. It was something I didn’t understand at the time. I get it now.

s a player my mindset going into 15 pre-seasons as a professional was always the same: survival! I loved playing rugby, and I trained to play whereas I had teammates who I felt played to train. Maybe my memories of pre-season are made worse by being a regular member of what was called “Fat Club.” Or as the French called it “Bad Boys”. That was the group who came back from holidays and missed their body fat targets. Extra-fasted conditioning at 6.30am and no butter on the spuds for a few weeks usually got me back on target, and back into general circulation.

Some of the darkest days were miles removed from actual matches. Running up and down Killiney Hill three days a week with Michael Cheika screaming in your ear. The HQ of the British Army, Aldershot Garrison, under Steve Diamond at Sale where sleep deprivation and dorm raids were some of the methods used to try and make us tougher mentally. Or the weeks spent at the Olympic Training Centre in Spala in Poland, famous for its cryotherapy chambers, hard bunk beds and the blandest food in the world.

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