Wally Rifle recently joined the Blues as head strength and conditioning coach.
www.theblues.co.nz caught up with him to find out more about his background and what he has in store for the team during the pre-season.
Tell us a bit about what you were doing prior to joining the Blues
Most recently I’ve been a part of the Chiefs Super Rugby team as a fulltime assistant trainer. I’ve had a dual role so when Super Rugby has been on that’s been my job and the other hat I wear is head trainer for the Waikato ITM Cup team, which I’ve been doing for four years as a head trainer there.
I also had the chance to ply my trade in Japan for a year and a bit while I was completing my sport science degree with a club called World Corporation. It was a great chance to get some OE experience and learn a new language and culture.
Are you looking forward to a new challenge as head strength and conditioning coach for the Blues?
I’m really looking forward to it and am privileged. †I’m really humbled by the appointment, especially when you see the calibre of coaches that you have around you. I’m stoked and really excited about the challenges it does present. I’m really excited about creating a powerful franchise, let alone a powerful Super Rugby team and trying to put the Blues back up there as one of the super powers of Super Rugby which they are renowned as.
How do you go about doing that in your role?
Getting good people around me is key and having the chance to appoint good people, especially in my assistant trainer’s role. I’ve seen that work and that not work in various other environments so I think that’s very important. It’s also about getting an understanding from the coaches early on about what they want from their players, the type of players they’re looking for, the type of game plan they’re looking to play and seeing if we fit that profile. If we don’t then it’s about finding a balance where we can make those players fit that profile so it’s really about working together.
You mention appointing an assistant trainer is paramount, so in that regard is getting new assistant trainer Jason Price on board key to the success of the Strength and Conditioning programme?
For me it’s pivotal to the players’ strength and conditioning. We are such an important part of pre-season, especially when you look at the squad that’s been assembled with the youth that’s in there so obviously there is some athlete development that we need to think about.
Also, being new to this environment I’ve only ever lived in the Waikato other than 18 months in Japan so having someone that knows the lay of the land here and that’s been involved with some of these guys before is really important to me and is going to make my role a lot easier. It’s good to have someone that’s got connections in the community and Jason fits that role perfectly, and there’s a whole raft of other skill sets he brings that complement me well and will add value to where we want to take this team.
What are your immediate goals for the pre-season?
Pre-season starts on December 10 and finishes on December 22 so we want to maximise every window during those 12 days to get them fit and to make sure their body compositions are in order. I’ve been running one-on-ones over the last two weeks to get hold of players and to tell them two things: 1) that we want you to be fit and 2) we want you to have lean mass. So for the next five weeks we’ve put together a generic plan to get those two important rocks in place and if they can buy in and see the importance of doing that on this side of December 10 it makes it a lot easier for us going forward.
There are lots of other things going on in players’ lives and we’ve got to be mindful of that; they’ve still got a life to live. I’ve told some of these guys they’ve got to go home and give their partner cuddles, give their kids treats and flowers to mum because come December 10 they’re ours and they’ll see very little of them. They’re going to be grumpy when they go home because we’re certainly going to test their character.
What sort of training will you be doing prior to Christmas?
Well believe it or not, they’ve only just realised the game they need to play is going to be a running game which means they’re going to be asked to do a lot of running fitness as well as a bit of mixed fitness tapping into all energy systems, whether that’s under the bar, wrestling or other movements like that. They’ll also be doing a bit of tin so time under the bar is going to be important.
I went out to have a look at the Warriors’ sand dunes session last weekend which was really cool. Jason took me out there a couple of days before to look at the sand dunes at Bethels Beach to tap into that resource that’s available to us because it’s free and there isn’t much equipment we really need – just a bit of ticker so we’re going to utilise that.†
I made a good contact with a gentleman a few weeks ago who runs Crossfit NZ so I’m really keen to give the guys a taste of that and I know Ludus Magnus through Jason’s connections there which offers a service and some of the boys have been doing that over the last year or so. With a whole new bunch of boys this year that’s going to be like a new thing for them as well so there will be a good scope of things.
You mentioned you’ll be training a very young squad with a young training age, does that mean you have to adjust the way you train them?
Definitely. I still don’t know the guys that well; I’ve only sat down for half an hour with them to go through their plans and programmes so that’s where the medical team becomes crucial. We need to have an integrated approach to overseeing these young guys because they can’t be lifting as much or we can’t push them as hard as some senior guys who have got a good training history behind them.
We will have access to GPS units to help us monitor training volume as far as distances go and also just casting an experienced eye over them to give us a gut feel on where things might be at. Collecting regular data on wellness and daily checks where we get numbers in to help quantify gut feel can really help as well.
How important is the pre-season for laying the foundations for a successful season ahead? It might be a cliche but is this the time to ‘put the money in the bank’ so to speak?
It’s a clichÈ that is true. I told the boys these 12 days prior to Christmas are absolutely crucial. It’s going to be about 90 per cent fitness and 10 per cent ëother’ for the first week, maybe 80 / 20 the next week and when we come back on January 7 you’re looking at 70 / 30 so the weighting changes and rugby becomes a priority because we’re a rugby team. So the biggest priority and the biggest window of opportunity to maximise our gains for fitness, and for running fitness in particular, is that 12 days before the Christmas break. Once you start pre-season games and in-season games you have more windows to get under the bar and do your tin, but you have very few windows to do the conditioning that will be required because they’re playing rugby every six or seven days.
Is your expectation that these guys will come in on December 10 ready to go, having already done some fitness work over their break?
Our expectation is that they will come in having done the work. We’ll know if they haven’t done the work because we’ll have assessments. We want to be in the top 10 per cent in the country of Super Rugby teams as far as fitness norms are concerned, that’s something we spoke about on day one of the squad announcement.
I showed them some numbers to give them some comparative data that we believe will help us a long way to winning games and being a threat in the competition. Like I said to the boys, ìI can’t guarantee you wins, but I know greatness awaits if you put in the hard work now.î We may not win the competition next year, but we’ll put some mana back into those Blues colours, and that’s going to be paramount. I just can’t wait to get into it.