Based in Japan at Toshiba Brave Lupus Rugby in Fuchu-Tokyo, Japan at the moment meet Keir. Between 2013 and 2016 he led the strength and conditioning programme for Los Pumas Argentina, culminating in a 4th place finish at the 2015 Rugby World Cup.
He has also worked as a strength and conditioning coach for the 2014 world club champions Sydney Roosters in the NRL, London Wasps in the English Premiership, London Scottish and Rotherham Titans in the English Championship.
It was with Team EXOS (formerly Athletes Performance) that several opportunities opened for Keir. Having moved from his native England Keir is one of the best Strength and Conditioning coaches in the World. The former Los Pumas Strength and Conditioning coach sat down with RuggaWorld as we discussed some of the most compelling and interest experiences he has had in the field. The Strength and Conditioning field is one of the most important pillars in any sport and could be the difference between winning sides and average sides.
BC – Why be a Strength and Conditioning coach? –
KWF – Being a terrible rugby player. *chuckles*
BC – The journey to being a top S&C? What are your aims as a Strength and Conditioning coach? –
KWF- Facilitating what the rugby coach is trying to do in terms of tactics and player development by reducing injuries and maximizing player availability. In summary I could say, maximizing the speed of movement – If I do everything faster than you – I have a stronger chance of winning. Technique being the same across the board.
Now at times you may sound like you diminishing the role but the reality is, as a S & C coach you will find players who don’t need you. They will get to the top and they will succeed without your help. Those players who hate it, and will still succeed. It is life. When I worked with SBW at the Roosters, the hardest job was walking in and turning the lights off. He will get to the top, play great and all you have to do is not break him. You will then have regular – mortal players who may need a bit more help.
BC – Your views on Crossfit?
KWF – Ridiculous. It’s not intelligent training.
BC – How have you acclimatized in Japan?
KWF – It’s interesting. I was in Argentina, so culturally it has been something different. I moved from an open Latin culture which is loud and open, to the Japanese who are the opposite. It’s a challenge to adjust to some aspects of Japan. That said, we still getting good stuff done.
BC – Tattoos?
KWF – Varies by club. You have coaches who have a no tattoos policy and others are more lenient. Some feel there is need for a strict discipline especially for the Japanese boys they may be expected to have a certain color of boots and a certain hair-style.
BC – Your Los Pumas time
KWF – In 2007 they did well, there were lots of positives; from strength and conditioning to investment and development in their game. This showed in their performances. There are lots of locals who say to me, that was a once in a generation squad featuring the Contepomi brothers, Juan Martin Hernandez, Agustin Pichot, Rodrigo Roncero, Mario Ledesma, etc. It clicked, they got lucky and they got momentum to have a good year. Post- 2007 they came back to reality and struggled. They will admit that passion and loving what you do isn’t enough.
As with any team, what you draw strength from can also be your weakness. Structure is key, and the lack there of it can be damaging. The development kicked on from about 2011 when formal contracts were signed. Agustin Pichot has been pivotal in the growth and development of the game since his retirement, not just for Argentina but globally. Super Rugby entry, Rugby Championship entry has happened and Argentina now have a system that has the same level and standard of Strength and Conditioning nationwide.
You go anywhere in Argentina and there is one philosophy in S & C. So at every level, the conditioning aspects are the same. All for the good of the Pumas. So as you go through regional, provincial or at national level – you are in the same system, nothing changes. What people think is a weakness about Argentina – ‘the lack of a professional league’; we saw several advantages. Clubs have no stake in the players, the union owns you and they dictate how you are trained, etc. It’s a Top – Down structure.
In each area equipment and funding will vary but there is consistency and a belief in the fundamentals of the system. It was a centralized model there so we would send the blueprint out to all the centres across the country to about thirty S & C coaches. They will all come back and give you feedback on the Pumas program we are working on instead of the reliance on one guy. We would meet as S & C coaches for a week about three times a year to discuss the developments of the system and refining it as a group. At the end of 2015 when I left, the system had evolved and was far better than in 2013 when we started.
BC – Everyone has an ego, how did the egos affect the environment as coaches? There were 30 bulls in a Kraal.
KWF – Less egos than what you can expect in the 6 Nations’ sides or the top 3 in the Southern Hemisphere (NZ, Australia & SA) who would have more egos in my experiences.
What is your take on South African rugby? You are an outsider looking in, and how do you feel they are being left behind? – I think perhaps they have been left behind in some regards. They are still an elite level team. They indeed have been left behind. When you dealing with a sport that is nearly professional of the professionalism is evolving you get the sense that if you don’t move with it… You will be left in your wake. You can get away with size, kicking and set piece for so long. Now you can see that the game has to be played a bit more different. You aren’t the strongest anymore and you need to adjust and find something extra. Speed, tactics, execution have to be perfect. The All Blacks are fast. Their execution is flawless and working with All Blacks this is what they said to me – ‘When you are playing us; we are usually level after 30-40 or even 60 minutes as we figure you out & wait for a mistake. When you do that, we hit you had and wait for the next error.’ You can find big strong guys at every game, whether club or provincial. The difference is that technical and tactical skill development.
BC – What has been the distinct difference between the New Zealand players you have worked with over the years and the rest?
KWF – The All blacks are special and they love what they do. If you don’t love it, you won’t last in the game. The culture is about high standards. Rise or drop out. If you get injured, you may never return unless you a very special player. The desire to cement the basics fuels them.
BC – Talk me through the size dynamics and how it affects teams? Does size matter?
KWF – Yes, but once you reach the standard it doesn’t matter anymore. Can you play in the NBA if you’re 5 feet tall? No. Can you play in the NBA if you’re 6 feet tall? Absolutely. If you’re 9 feet tall, will you be the best player? No way. So why should we have players striving to get bigger and bigger while you can have a standard size and work on the other dynamics as a player.
So once you’re big enough, it is all about skills, tactics and psychological resilience. And the physical standard you have to reach is a lot lower than 99% of South African rugby would have you believe!
BC – Are the All Blacks the fittest side in the world?
KWF – They are extremely fit but what counts more is the way they play and their of execution skills. It may make it appear as though they are the fittest. They execute so excellently that it can be deceptive. So can we say it’s their fitness or is it their concentration that aids them in the latter parts of a game? So many dynamics to this observation.
BC – There is talk of a global season. Less games or less training sessions? What fatigues players, is it training or games?
KWF – It has to be games. You are engaged in mental, psychologically, physically battle in the toughest environment possible. The stress levels are shooting through the roof and in a tough competition you will be challenged.
BC – The Sunwolves, do they select the best talent in Japan?
KWF – There is one full professional side in Japan, which is Sanix. The rest are semi-pro sides. You still have players with day jobs that contribute to their pension. It’s probably 4 or 5 hours a day in the factory then they rock up for training. So for the Wolves a selected player must be released by the club and his employer must also release them. Note, they must accumulate enough hours for their pension as well.
There are generous employers who allow players to pursue their careers to the realization that they will work in the factory post rugby life. I think it is complex for most players.
BC – Offseason importance?
KWF – One of the most vital aspects of a new season. You need rest, recovery and preparation. Everyone more or less does the same off/pre-season. The difference will come in the small details, organization and transitions. You need to break it down to what you want done and want achieved for each specific player.
It mustn’t be blanket because all players have different requirements and are in different stages of their careers. Performance = Fitness – Fatigue. Argentina looked fresher at the 2015 World Cup due to our ability to manage fatigue and remove it as fast as possible.
Everything must be set up to get players to peak at the right time.