Are we lacking Skill or Fitness?


New Zealand All Blacks Training SessionThe All Blacks remain the world’s best rugby team not just because they are better than everyone else but because they are fitter.

So many times we ask why we always lose those close and important games against the men from  New Zeeland.

The more things change, the more they stay the same: that much becomes abundantly clear when you go digging for the reasons the All Blacks are not just the finest but the fittest rugby team(s) on the planet.

This can be single out as the one single advantage they have over not just South Africa but also the rest of the world. Combine that with their skill of throwing the ball round for half their life’s and you have the winning formula that makes them the number one team in the world.

New Zeeland superior fitness consistently give them the edge in big-time test matches and Super Rugby clashes with Australia and South Africa. They will go onto the field with the attitude of if I cannot run you off your feet with our high tempo game, then we will simply get into you and outlast you.

Technology and science advance at a rapid rate and professional rugby player has GPS units to track his every movement, machines to strain sinew, monitors to measure reaction and nutritional products to fuel him.

Yet in New Zeeland it can be something quite simple.

Take September 2012, as reported by MARC HINTON, on Rugby Heaven website: “Days out from battling the Springboks in the Dunedin dome. Andrew Hore and Tony Woodcock, a couple of hardy front-row customers, drove to the Maniototo to spend their day off dehorning 180 head of cattle.

Not too far away Sam Whitelock and Luke Romano had had been up since 5am traipsing around the bush tracking pigs and deer. Both these activities were authorised by the team strength and conditioning guru Nic Gill who incorporates them into the players’ weekly fitness programme. This is the All Blacks staying ahead of the chasing pack. Doing whatever it takes. And it turns out, the back-to-the-future approach works a treat. For some. “It’s still basic,” says Gill of the tenets of the All Blacks fitness programme.

The fact of the matter is a player need to be strong, he needs to be powerful, he needs to be quick and he needs to be able to run all day. How many South African players can we put down with these qualities? Most of our current Springbok players in the Super Rugby do not even play more than 55 min a game.

Skills on the other hand is something that we failed to learn in junior phase of our development in South Africa.

Gill says that New Zeeland rugby players embrace their nature and from a young age all they do is through the ball around all day. This skill needs players to be fit otherwise you will fall behind.

South African teams is all about size, kicking, territory and forcing other teams into mistakes.

New Zealanders will do a lot of fitness in the week; and they don’t spend most of their time in gyms pumping iron, but if they are, you will find some of the New Zealanders at Sweat Equity Fitness. They will work hard in the week on increasing fitness levels, they do high intensity workouts.

All Blacks head coach Steve Hansen is convinced superior fitness is winning tests for the All Blacks – even while they’re still scratching to find their best game.

At the end it is quite simple, our players is not fit enough to play full 80 min and we depend on the impact of impact players too much to make the difference in the last bit of the match.

Before we can start trying to improve our skill level we need to get our players conditioned and fit to go for 80 min plus per week.

Sources: Rugby Heaven, NZ Post, NZ Herhald

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Better known as Bunny, Took over after Pissant went over to the "Dark Side"


  1. Read somewhere the other day the strictness of John when he was the coach of the Lions was exactly the main reason why he was sacked as coach….

    Seems like our fatty’s does not like to be drilled…..A few seasons ago I heard the same rumours with then National Cricket coach Clive Rise believing in fitness of his players and fatty’s like Smith and other senior players did not like the effort that was put in on fitness.

    With Kitch ’95 WC team I remember he said before the WC that we are not the best team in the tournament but we are the fittest…..

    Also in the final when it came to the extra time in the final as he walked on the field he told his players we have this game because we are fitter than the All Blacks….

    This year we also saw the VC games which was close to spectacular and I wonder if it is not because these young guys are fit enough to play 80 min full out as shown in the final by UCT….

    I fit player do not get tired and can think better on the field and his option taking is more advance than a fatty that huff and puff the last 15 min.

  2. We might not have the fittest guys but he have beautiful specimens like Spies and JJ. Pure gym strength with nicely rounded curves. Who cares if they are not as skillful or fit?

  3. But in all seriousness, kiwi players will stay fit the way they play, while many of our guys might lose fitness during the season because on the field we avoid playing?

    I just know guys like Danie Gerber were at their day world leaders in fitness in the game.

  4. I wish someone to tell me that a team of SA is conditioned to play for 80 min against a Aussie or NZ team team…..

    Even the Sharks looked out on the feet on Friday when the Highlanders run the ball for phases in the match….

    Big Fatty’s in the Sharks team looked ordinary and could not kept up with the speed of the Highlanders game…

    If we go back to the NZ test last year the same happened…we were ran off our feet by the AB and they had some extra still in the tank….

  5. Its a lot of things but certainly both are at the top of our current list. We should add culture and intent too.

    This is what’s such a small population like Australia is good at everything, Inent. Every Football world cup I ask my Socceroo mates who might win and they say Australia, like a dumb question.
    Maybe if it was offence/defence but simply to defend a lead like the Bulls did to lose is the wrong intent.

    Time will tell when its big rugby in a few months.

  6. The likliest explanation is probably that our players are played to death rather than that they are unconditioned…

    the idea that we lack fitness or skills is kak.

    Utter total and complete kak.

  7. There is a trade off.

    Spend more time on aerobic fitness and you have to give up time on strength and bulk.

    Take for Bjorn Basson for example. He has clearly more bulk than a few seasons ago. There really was no choice in the matter, he was way lighter than the kiwi wings and clearly needed to bulk up. But it probably came at the price of spending less time on aerobic fitness and or skill.

    It’s a dilemma. SA starts off with backs that are genetically smaller than the kiwis. If we try to match them in size we won’t match them in fitness or skills and vice versa.

  8. Sun Tzu had some advice for SA rugby:

    “So in war, the way is to avoid what is strong, and strike at what is weak.”

  9. Folks tend to forget the national unions in Oz and NZ manage their players. Remember the ARU pulling out Folau recently from a match?

    Conrad Smith, Carter, McCaw, etc. have all enjoyed extended rest periods in recent years to help keep them fresh, fit and fighting.

  10. Precisely Morne… although I am opposed to the central contracting idea, this is one of the pay offs of having such a system…. elite players can be managed from such a level.

    In the pressent South African environment there is no compunction on the provincial sides to properly manage players for national benefit at all.

  11. @DavidS:

    I agree with you on tha one. Although I would say that they are poorly managed instead of “played to death”.

    I also think our coaches don’t evolve enough. JW is proving that to a limited degree at the Sharks this year.