Paul Bunce is into week four of his Head of Fitness role with Connacht Rugby. The New Zealander joined the province’s backroom team straight from the Scottish Rugby 7’s set up where he was the lead Strength and Conditioning Coach.  

Having previously trained Premiership club Bath as well as PRO12 sides Newport Gwent Dragons, he possesses considerable experience within rugby but admits there is always a learning curve in starting with a new club.

We catch up with Paul on his time so far with the senior Connacht squad, the objectives and demands of pre-season as well as his motivational methods for a long 10-week period leading into the regular season.

“Our main aim for pre season is to improve the strength and size of the players”, says Paul. “It’s an area that we want to make big strides in and I’ve been fortunate enough to have the last 3-4 weeks almost to myself to get the process underway.

To do that invloves a lot of time in the gym as well as getting our nutrition spot on. We have to ensure that by the time we get into the rugby, the players are at the body weights that have been set out for them.”

The majority of the 41-strong senior squad were required to report for testing back in mid-June and Paul says this provided a lot of the information he needed to plan for pre-season:

“Those two days of testing were very beneficial. I was able to gain insight into what the players could lift, their body composition, how well they can jump, what their speed times were.

“We’re into week four of pre-season now, now so we’ll start to look at re-testing and that will tell us how the players have progressed. We’re already seeing some very positive results – players tend to be putting more on the bar and the weights on the scales are going up, which this is what we’d expect.

“The next important thing is that they can maintain and look to improve and in some cases continue to gain throughout the season.”

Each week of preseason offers a different challenge as the regular season approaches but Paul says there is a typical schedule set out each week for the players:

“Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, we’re usually in the gym with lower limb and upper limb weights sessions with some identified conditioning like wrestling thrown into the mix. Wrestling is an incredibly tough session but it gives us a very good idea of who needs to do more in the gym.

“Tuesdays and Thursdays, we focus on mobility, speed and running fitness while every day there is a strong emphasis on personal preparation and injury prevention.

“We put a big emphasis on getting our nutrition right. Sufficient breaks between sessions and enough sleep are also fundamental for proper recovery. We need to be able to get the most out of the players when they come in the next day.

 

“In terms of an individual plan for each player, we look at what they can currently do and what they need to achieve. For example, there are some very strong boys in this squad so their emphasis right now is a little bit less on strength and more on power production.

“Players will be at different stages whether its body weight, off feet fitness, speed or ballistic work so there’s a fair amount of individualisation that goes on.”

With no weekly fixtures to look forward to, preseason can often seem like a long run in but Paul insists it’s a very short time period from the point of view of the trainers and players:

In reality, we have 4 -5 weeks to achieve our strength & conditioning goals so we need to have a large amount of consistency with our training approach.

“The players are kept motivated due to a strong culture here which is always about improving. There is a real competitive edge to everything we do.

“Since I’ve been here, I’ve recognised an extremely strong work ethic amongst the Connacht boys and that’s down to the work of the players, coaches and all the backroom staff who have built that culture.

“The players have a love/hate relationship with preseason. It is a hugely physical and demanding time for the body but in a way they love being pushed to the edge.“

Connacht Rugby has recently invested in new sports science software known as Kitman Labs which helps reduce the chance of injuries amongst players. Paul explains how this works and why it is a useful tool for the S&C department:

With the  Kitman Labs software we now have a pre-screening system where we can look at the guys from a musculoskeletal, wellness, physical and mental point of view. We’re just starting to build up a database with all the information but it will help us get to know the players better both physically and mentally.

“Each morning the players input the information themselves on iPads, they weigh themselves, monitor hydration, fatigue, mood, stress etc. That information is collated and alerts will come through to us highlighting any potential issues. We can then go to the player, educate them and continue to monitor them closely.  It helps us manage their training loads to reduce the chance of  injury and it’s working well for us so far”

In terms of measuring a successful pre-season after 10 weeks, Paul says there are a number of indicators:

“We have our own in-house measurements in terms of strength, power and body composition so that will make up the initial Key Performance Indicators. We also want to perform well, and gauge how the players feel physically when they’re out there.

“We’ll be constantly giving the guys feedback and targets throughout the season, whether that’s body compositiong, strength  or power, GPS or loadings and hoping that this will contribute to some ideal performances this season

“Everyone understands that this is an important season for Connacht and we’re aiming to make a really good start. Pre-season is about doing everything to make sure we are ready for that and for the long season ahead. It’s an exciting time.”

Connacht Rugby kick off the official season with a home game against Newport Gwent Dragons on the weekend of September 5/6/7. Fixture dates and kick off times for the PRO12 are to be confirmed before the end of July.

To secure your place at the Sportsground for all 14 home games in the 2014/15 season, make sure to get your Season Ticket. Click here for more details.

 

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