14 January 2014

Five-day turnaround just not smart

Both Leinster and Northampton have been handed a five-day turnaround between Round 5 & 6 of their remaining Heineken Cup Pool games.

We all appreciate fixture lists are constructed for broadcasters who want to optimise their programming and that heavily influences the scheduling of games. He who pays the piper calls the tune so to speak. But there has to be limits to this scheduling.

After all, these players are not machines and recovery is a crucial part of preparation between performances.

It is also worth remembering that the other two teams in Pool 1, Castres and Ospreys, also get just a five-day turnaround. Ostensibly it would seem fair as all four teams in Pool 1 have the exact same recovery time between Round 5 and Round 6. But it is not that simple.

Firstly, players should be given the opportunity to recover properly between games in order to give them every opportunity to deliver their best performance in the final Pool game of the tournament. In a tournament with just six pool games to determine qualification for the quarter-finals, the opportunity to deliver the best performance possible in the final pool game is the least a player should expect.

Also, any minor bumps, bruises and minor injuries that may clear up over seven days have little or no chance to recover over five days.

The notion it is acceptable that both teams are equally fatigued, so any drop off in the quality of their performance will be similar. Therefore no team is disadvantaged. That is a flawed principle.

There is also the issue of player welfare. The optimum recovery time between professional rugby games is seven days. Six days is acceptable, but five days is just too much of a stretch, especially in mid-season.

Look at the usual logistics of a seven-day turnaround:

Day 0: Game

Day 1: Recovery (Active rehab)

Day 2: Train

Day 3: Train

Day 4: Free Day (Even professional rugby players deserve a day off)

Day 5: Train

Day 6: Light Team Run

Day 7: Game

Now try cramming that schedule into five days and there are immediate compromises to be made.

Recovery on Day 1 cannot be compromised as that is the day players get to attend rehab sessions, injury assessment etc. It is an important and quite a busy day. Without a proper recovery players will just become even more fatigued as preparations for the next game progress.

At the other end of the schedule, Day 6 (the day before the game) has to be a light team run, as energy needs to be conserved for the game the following day. In the middle of the schedule, Day 4, players need a day off to get away from work and decompress.

In a five-day turnaround Days 2,3, & 5 have to be compressed into just one day. But if the team is heading into the final pool game, with all the chips on the table, there is a lot of pressure or at least the temptation to trade on Days 1,4 & 6.

Players and coaches are judged on results. So putting them in a situation where they are forced to compromise on preparation, purely for commercial scheduling reasons, is a flawed logic.

Surely the commercial interests in the game want the players at their peak to deliver the product on the field that attracts supporters to the game. Forcing them to compromise those preparations has to affect the end product. That fact alone should demonstrate the flaw in the scheduling that the players and coaches now have to deal with.

Five-day turnarounds are just not smart.