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Most Lions ‘not far away from the fittest they’ve ever been’

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Strength and conditioning coach Rupert Oberholster expects the Lions' players to be in better condition than they were when Super Rugby was halted.

Rupert Oberholster says that the Lions players have really worked hard. File Picture

JOHANNESBURG – In spite of the fact that the Lions’ Super Rugby players haven’t done any formal group training for nearly four months, the team’s strength and conditioning coach Rupert Oberholster is confident – and hopeful – that the players are still in top physical shape.

In fact, said Oberholster yesterday, he expects the players to be in better condition than they were when a halt was called to Super Rugby in mid-March because of the spread of the coronavirus.

“The players have really worked very hard (over the last few months) and I predict most players will smash their personal bests when we test their fitness again,” said an upbeat Oberholster.

“Most of the players are in great physical condition; probably not far away from the fittest they have ever been.”

The emphasis to stay in shape, with no return-to-rugby date in place, has rested solely on the individual players’ shoulders and, according to Oberholster, has proved challenging at times.

“We have some players who could go to their farms or had big enough yards for them to run in, but we also have players that live on the second or third floor of a building who could not run at all.

“We were blessed also in that some amazing people in Gauteng helped us out with treadmills, assault bikes, rowers and other gym equipment, ensuring all our players were sorted and could keep on training on their own at home.

“The players have been amazing in taking responsibility for their conditioning. The biggest challenge was to zoom in on every player’s unique situation and give specific training programmes and then connect with 42 players on a daily basis.”

Oberholster worked out specific training programmes for the players, dependent on what each individual was capable of doing in his home space.

“We made videos of drills that the players could follow to simulate rugby-specific movement, even if they only had a balcony to train on. And each player did fitness tests according to his available space and equipment and as soon as the players were able to run in the street, we were able to track them better and monitor them.

“Most players have GPS watches so I was able to connect them to an application where they uploaded their training sessions so that I could monitor them and give them feedback.”

Keeping the players motivated to continue working hard on their own though, knowing it may still be months before the players actually train fully together as a group, let alone play an actual match, has also proved trying.

“The players have had their ups and downs,” admitted Oberholster.

All the country’s Super Rugby and Pro14 teams are awaiting the green light from the government to return to some form of group training.

It was hoped the players would be allowed to work out in small groups from yesterday, but no guidelines or approval has come from the Sports Ministry.