Nic Gill has been Strength and Conditioning coach for the New Zealand All Blacks for the past 15 years. As he spoke to Female First at an event to unveil the team's partnership with the high-performance bike manufacturer Wattbike, Gill gave us the inside story on how his team gets some of the most powerful athletes in sport into peak condition.
What has changed in the methodology behind preparing rugby players for big matches in your 15 years with the All Blacks?
Our ambitions as a strength and conditioning team has not changed, but what has shifted is the knowledge, the commitment and the professionalism of the athlete. How you get strong has not changed, that is all down to training and eating correctly. But the commitment of the athletes we have now has changed. This is a lifestyle choice them now and when I started with the All Blacks in 2008, we didn't have athletes training and preparing with the professionalism we see now.
So would you say the fitness element of the game has become a lifestyle choice for players now?
Absolutely and that is highlighted with retired players now. They enjoyed the fitness side of things when they were playing and they continue with it when they stop playing rugby. A few years ago, the guys didn't stay fit when they retired, but that has changed as they enjoy being fit and enjoy being strong. There is definitely a greater appreciation of what it takes to be a professional and they know they if they do all these little things right, you can be in the sport for 20 years.
Do you need to encourage players to stay fit when they are in the off season?
When I started in this job, if players were off for an eight-week break, they would not worry too much about their fitness in that time, but that doesn't happen anymore. If I don't give them a fitness programme, they will do their own. It is far easier to stay healthy and fit than to lose conditioning and trying to get it back. Also, there is always a young player waiting to take your place and that is a great motivating tool.
Does one player stand out as the fittest you have worked with?
There are different players who have impressed me. At the moment, I would look at Rieko Ioane and he is so fast. Then I turn to someone like Beauden Barrett, who was quick, agile and extremely fit. Brad Thorn, big Brad, was a fantastic athlete as well. Richie McCaw didn't have the best scores in the fitness stakes, but he had a hell of a ticker.
There have been a lot of athletes over the last 15 years that have impressed me, but that's just a few of them.
Do you prepare athletes you work with to fit in with a style of play the coaching staff are calling for on the field?
When it comes to the body weight and conditioning of an athlete, the targets are very much based around the style of play the coaching staff was to deploy. So if we are playing a power game, weight and size is important, but speed is also important. The weight of rugby players has gone up and up in recent years and our forwards have gained 1kg a year. It is frightening how big they have become, but I feel there will be plateauing of that in the coming years.
What kind of time would the All Blacks players do the 1km challenge in on the Wattbikes?
We had one of our players, Angus Ta'avao, do ten 1km runs on the bike today and we had him starting at times around one minute and 45. Then he had to go faster on every run and he finished his last rip at 1.04. That fitness drill is copyrighted by the way!
What are the benefits of the Wattbike for the All Blacks?
The main reason we love using these bikes is we have big athletes who are putting in maximum effort and this is the only bike that stands up to the demands of that load time and again. That's why Wattbike has become such a big part of our programme and every little edge you can get in elite sport now is so important. Wherever we go in the world, we get Wattbikes delivered and it has so many uses for young and old people to remain healthy and to achieve their athletic targets.
Nic Gill was speaking at the announcement for Wattbike’s new official partnership with New Zealand Rugby.
Words by Kevin Palmer for Female First, who you can follow on Twitter, @RealKevinPalmer.