Rugby Union: The perils of peaking too early

Jonathan Davies is worried by the professionals who will soon be fit to drop

When Bath visit Pontypridd today in the European Cup, I shall be looking forward to this early chance to compare Welsh and English club standards and I'll be paying particular attention to the fitness levels.

This is not because as a newly retired player I want to make sure the lads are not slacking, I just want to confirm my impression that players are much fitter now than they've ever been at the start of a season.

From what I've seen up to now, I believe that to be the case and it worries me. There's every reason to be fit at the start of a season but there are only so many peaks a body can reach over a period of time and I wonder how they are going to maintain this level of fitness for a long and demanding season without doing themselves damage.

There was a time when clubs used to amble into action and gradually build up the pace through the autumn. If there was an international early in the season it was usually an occasion to get the rust out of the system. Those days disappeared with the arrival of the professional era and we have a right to expect a bit more urgency but the speed with which the new season has hit the ground running is phenomenal.

When Wales played Romania at Wrexham last weekend, September hadn't even arrived and yet the Welsh were in Five Nations fettle. Romania didn't stand a chance and the winning margin could have been 100 points.

I was delighted at the way Wales played. The forwards were very impressive, with some good ball-carrying skill displayed by Rob Appleyard, Barry Williams and Steve Moore. Skipper Gwyn Jones was an excellent link and the competition lining up for back-row places is heartening.

But it was only six weeks since Wales returned from their tour of the USA and Canada and for most of that time the players have been engaged in meeting very strict club training regimes. It took only one look at Cardiff's to convince me to call it a day. The same thing is happening elsewhere and I've been particularly impressed with the standard in the English clubs matches I've seen, particularly the ball retention skills. They haven't picked those up without plenty of graft.

England haven't played an international yet but they have three coming up in the next few months and the same applies to the other countries. Meanwhile, the top clubs have the European Cup and their own domestic competitions to contend with. We used to be able to rely on a few easy games but every fixture is a battle these days.

I fully realise the problems. The clubs have made big investments in their squads while the countries are increasingly aware that the 1999 World Cup is less than two years away but I do appeal to both to give some consideration to their most important assets. It is impossible to play all-year rugby without high risk of a major injury.

Twice I attempted to play rugby for 20 months non-stop and twice I caught the backlash. In 1991, I squeezed in a summer playing for Canterbury Bulldogs in Australia between two seasons for Widnes. In 1995, I spent the summer playing for North Queensland and in the following winter moved from Warrington to Cardiff rather unexpectedly. On both occasions the strain of not taking a rest resulted in a hernia operation.

Fitness is king in rugby at the moment. But hard training without proper rest is counter-productive. Not only does regular rest prevent physical fatigue, it prevents mental tiredness. I must emphasise that the main problem is not the playing but the amount of training - that's what did for me and it'll ruin many more. In my opinion, enthusiasm is still as important as any facet of professional sport and I am not sure that the game has cottoned on yet.

As for myself, I have started light training but I am not ready yet to play the fun rugby I mentioned last week. I've already had a few invitations to turn out including one for Crawshay's XV in Cornwall next week. I've had to turn it down, I'm afraid. Even Frank Sinatra left his comebacks a bit longer than a fortnight.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Chiropractic Assistant

£16500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Chiropractic Assistant is needed in a ...

Recruitment Genius: Digital Account Executive - Midlands

£18000 - £26000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They work with major vehicle ma...

Recruitment Genius: Web Developer

£28000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company provides coaching ...

Ashdown Group: Front-End UI Application Developer

£30000 - £40000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: Front-End UI Application ...

Day In a Page

Where the spooks get their coffee fix: The busiest Starbucks in the US is also the most secretive

The secret CIA Starbucks

The coffee shop is deep inside the agency's forested Virginia compound
Revealed: How the Establishment closed ranks over fallout from Loch Ness Monster 'sighting'

How the Establishment closed ranks over fallout from Nessie 'sighting'

The Natural History Museum's chief scientist was dismissed for declaring he had found the monster
One million Britons using food banks, according to Trussell Trust

One million Britons using food banks

Huge surge in number of families dependent on emergency food aid
Excavation at Italian cafe to fix rising damp unearths 2,500 years of history in 3,000 amazing objects

2,500 years of history in 3,000 amazing objects

Excavation at Italian cafe to fix rising damp unearths trove
The Hubble Space Telescope's amazing journey, 25 years on

The Hubble Space Telescope's amazing journey 25 years on

The space telescope was seen as a costly flop on its first release
Did Conservative peer Lord Ashcroft quit the House of Lords to become a non-dom?

Did Lord Ashcroft quit the House of Lords to become a non-dom?

A document seen by The Independent shows that a week after he resigned from the Lords he sold 350,000 shares in an American company - netting him $11.2m
Apple's ethnic emojis are being used to make racist comments on social media

Ethnic emojis used in racist comments

They were intended to promote harmony, but have achieved the opposite
Sir Kenneth Branagh interview: 'My bones are in the theatre'

Sir Kenneth Branagh: 'My bones are in the theatre'

The actor-turned-director’s new company will stage five plays from October – including works by Shakespeare and John Osborne
The sloth is now the face (and furry body) of three big advertising campaigns

The sloth is the face of three ad campaigns

Priya Elan discovers why slow and sleepy wins the race for brands in need of a new image
How to run a restaurant: As two newbies discovered, there's more to it than good food

How to run a restaurant

As two newbies discovered, there's more to it than good food
Record Store Day: Remembering an era when buying and selling discs were labours of love

Record Store Day: The vinyl countdown

For Lois Pryce, working in a record shop was a dream job - until the bean counters ruined it
Usher, Mary J Blige and Will.i.am to give free concert as part of the Global Poverty Project

Mary J Blige and Will.i.am to give free concert

The concert in Washington is part of the Global Citizen project, which aims to encourage young people to donate to charity
10 best tote bags

Accessorise with a stylish shopper this spring: 10 best tote bags

We find carriers with room for all your essentials (and a bit more)
Paul Scholes column: I hear Manchester City are closing on Pep Guardiola for next summer – but I'd also love to see Jürgen Klopp managing in England

Paul Scholes column

I hear Manchester City are closing on Pep Guardiola for next summer – but I'd also love to see Jürgen Klopp managing in England
Jessica Ennis-Hill: 'I just want to give it my best shot'

Jessica Ennis-Hill: 'I just want to give it my best shot'

The heptathlete has gone from the toast of the nation to being a sleep-deprived mum - but she’s ready to compete again. She just doesn't know how well she'll do...