How the Crusaders stay rugby ready during the off season

There’s nothing worse than realising how underdone you are 15 minutes into the first preseason session of the season. 

The weather is hot, your legs are heavy and the 40 metre line looks further away every time you turn to face it. 

Fortunately though, according to Crusaders strength and conditioning coach Gareth Duder this can all be avoided.

The key he says, is to keep moving. 

“We refer to our off season as a transition phase and it’s important that you balance a players physical and mental workload with a bit of R&R during that time,” Duder told Rugby News. 

“When they are working, it’s important to work on the areas that they need to improve on during the off season and that is going to be different for every player. 

“Without the added rugby load that you get during the season, this time is ideal to work on any physical qualities that need addressing. 

“If someone is fantastic with their strength and fitness but lacked a bit speed last season, then you’d want that player to focus more on that area during this time than anything else. If they need to put on size, then it would be more time in the gym.”

While that might not be what a prop pumping our squats in the gym all summer wants to hear, Duder and the Crusaders approach appears to be working. 

The Crusaders are the most successful provincial rugby franchise in world rugby and more recently, have launched a rugby academy in partnership with the University of Wollongong to spread the “Crusader way” on this side of the Tasman. 

“To speak generally, we never want to let any physical quality go during the off season, so you need to stay on top of things,” Duder said. 

“It’s also important to keep a rugby ball in your hand during that time as well because at the end of the day, that’s what you’re going to be doing when the season rolls around.

“If someone runs a 20 in a yoyo, there’s no point flogging them on fitness any further. Every player is completely different and we create profiles on each individual to identify where their strengths are and where they might be able to find improvement. 

Duder says he works directly with the Crusaders coaches to identify physical improvements that can be made to increase a player’s on field performance and said student athletes at the UOW Crusaders Global Rugby Program will receive similar treatment. 

“The guys in Wollongong, training up to 20 hours a week, they’re going to be able to access that level of specific detail in their training and I think that will be super beneficial. 

“Finding those small improvements can be the difference between being a good player at club level and taking the next step in your rugby career. 

Duder said there were a handful of standout athletes in the current Crusaders crop. 

“One name that jumps out at me is Dave Havili. His ability to tolerate such a massive running load week in, week out is incredible. From our GPS data, you can see just how hard he pushes himself in each and every session. 

“Will Jordan is another who came through our academy system. His top speed is something to behold and he’s currently got a few records up on our board.”

However he stressed that not all players are physically ready to play professional rugby when first selected, so long term development was key.

“It’s certainly a journey. Some guys get accelerated into the professional ranks earlier than others because of their rugby ability, whereas for others they need to wait until their bodies catch up. 

“The players that do have to work harder to get there in the end are often the ones that go on to be really successful. It they don’t quit, those sort of guys seem to get there in the end.”

Applications to join the UOW Crusaders Global Rugby Academy in 2022 are open, with the program set to kickstart in February next year. 

Click here for more information or to apply now.