Game of hard knocks: can the All Blacks really be beaten?
With the Rugby World Cup 2015 fast approaching, the autumn internationals seem to be producing some results that might very well be replicated come September next year. It is pretty obvious to many that in order to deliver in the top tournaments it is vital that a team develop a total belief in themselves, such that nothing will actually manage to stop them. None are in a better position than New Zealand who, since lifting the last World Cup in 2011, have managed an incredible 37 wins 2 draws and 2 loses. Only England (in Twickenham) and South Africa (Ellis Park) have managed to beat them.
Players such as Sonny Bill Williams, who has just returned from a two-year hiatus playing rugby league in Australia, are the perfect example of the new “winning machine” the rest of us will have to deal with. The former undefeated heavy weight boxer (6 fights/6 wins), 194 cm tall, 108kg blockbuster centre is not only a physical powerhouse but also a mentally strong, fast and agile “freakish sporting talent”.
Since rugby turned professional players have become bigger, stronger and faster. Members of the current England team are, on average, 2.5cm taller and 6 kilos heavier than their Grand Slam winning predecessors of 1992. When players of this size collide, the forces can be similar to what you’d experience in a car crash.
Part of the reason rugby players can take these hits is due to genetics – they are born tough. Some argue they need to be good at healing quickly too. Besides that, conditioning, medical care and coaching play a huge part. Preparing for the big hits is essential to minimise the damage. As well as training to get bigger and stronger, players also follow training programmes that strengthen areas of the body often injured – like ankles, knees and shoulders.As the resolve of the players of this game to reach the goal of that final victory, will continue to get stronger and stronger, so the risk of serious injury will increase. This is not being helped by the stereotype of the modern player, which seems to be getting bigger, faster and stronger. England’s so called “answer” to Sonny Bill Williams, Sam Burgess, also a former rugby league player at 196cm and 116kg, has the power to make England look scary again. This though will not be down to his pure size but, like his all black counter-part, his passing and off-loading ability will make the opposition feel wary of him. Having said this though, few will pull out of a full on clash with either of these players giving the spectators constant reminders of how hard these men actually are.
In the long-term though, the accumulation of hits and the repeated concussions effects to the brain will almost certainly leave some unfortunate legacy. Whereas shoulders can be rebuilt, hips can be replaced, damage to the brain can’t be repaired!