As if the notorious full-contact training sessions of Warren Gatland and Shaun Edwards were not arduous enough, the Welsh players have been instructed to wear weighted vests during the intense "practice games" in the build-up to their opening autumn Test against Australia.
The garments are evenly distributed with weights and look rather like bulletproof vests. Except the difference ends there as Alun-Wyn Jones, the huge lock, revealed that some of the forwards have felt as if they have been shot.
"It's OK for the backs as the vests are worked out to a percentage of your body weight," he said at the team hotel in the Vale of Glamorgan. "I'm telling you, five per cent of 130 kilos is heavy. It's about an extra stone I've been running around with. It's nice when we get to take them off and we can feel our arms and legs again."
It is one of the ploys the Welsh management are using in an effort to redress some of the disparity in match fitness between the two teams in Cardiff on Saturday. Australia beat New Zealand in Hong Kong at the weekend and, as Gatland says, "were playing in the Tri-Nations not too long ago". Wales, meanwhile, have not played since June.
That is just one of the ominous portents for a Millennium Stadium which threatens only to be two-thirds full. The memory of last year's 33-12 walloping by the Wallabies still hurts and their stunning 26-24 victory over the All Blacks on Saturday is a fearsome form pointer. "It was the first time they beat New Zealand after 10 defeats in a row so we must hope they went out celebrating long and hard," joked Gatland, who highlighted the destructive flanker David Pocock as the danger man. "It was such a great win, they deserved to party and it will be great if they turn up here not quite focused."
In truth, with their mounting injury list, Wales need all the help they can muster. Gatland postponed naming his XV from yesterday until tomorrow, although he said this had nothing to do with the necessity of juggling the pack with front-liners including Ryan Jones, Lee Byrne and Leigh Halfpenny absent. "There is so much analysis going on, why name our team today?" said Gatland, who revealed this would be an ongoing ploy. "Keep them guessing. We are reasonably clear what the side might be." The toughest choice will have revolved around whether to play James Hook at full-back. It is understood Gatland will do that, leaving Andrew Bishop and Tom Shanklin to form the centre partnership. Hook last night gave notice that he will leave the Ospreys at the end of the season.
Brian O'Driscoll will lead out Ireland on Saturday against South Africa after recovering from his hamstring problem.Reuse content