Aside from a very long and very loud hiccup in Dublin, England gave the impression throughout last season that they were fitter and more dynamic than their opponents. Wales conceded six tries at the Millennium Stadium; Scotland and France six apiece at Twickenham; and Italy 10 at the same killing field. While the rest were sucking in air the English were full of running. Take a bow Dave Reddin.
As the Rugby Football Union's national fitness adviser, he is responsible for the physical preparation of the players, from what to eat and when to how long they should spend in the Jacuzzi. He is modest about his role, but Clive Woodward credits him with instilling a professional mentality by implementing detailed training and dietary programmes.
"Other countries have sound structures in place so I wouldn't necessarily claim that England are fitter," Reddin said. "The team winning always look the fittest. The way Clive tries to play the game is at a very fast pace, and in a sense it's a matter of natural selection. The fittest survive in what is a very competitive environment. Even if we've got a comfortable lead at half-time the attitude is to push it again as if the score was 0-0."
This evening the England squad will assemble in Bagshot and tomorrow will pump iron. Most will have had hard weekend matches. "The Lions tour took a lot out of the players physically and mentally," Reddin said, "and after we lost to Irelandthe accusation was that we weren't quite as fit as we had been. They said we were looking stale, jaded, and yet we bounced back against Australia.
"I think it was a psychological thing. That's a huge area to tap into as teams get on a more equal physical footing. In the Premiership you can't explain great fluctuations in results on physical conditioning. It's in the head, but that's another story. This Six Nations will be very interesting. They're all shooting at us."
So who is the fittest, fastest in the squad? "No comment. If I didn't name Austin Healey I'd get all sorts of stick from him. Certainly Jason Robinson is absolutely phenomenal, an incredible physical talent. He's not somebody I have to worry about. It was similar with the Fijian Waisale Serevi at Leicester. You don't want to mess with what they're doing."
Reddin has spent the last seven months helping Lawrence Dallaglio's rehabilitation of the right knee he damaged playing for Wasps against Bath before the Lions tour. Dallaglio had twisted the knee in a tackle and injured the anterior cruciate ligament. "People questioned whether he should have gone on the Lions tour, and it was a very difficult call," Reddin said. "Tony Underwood ruptured the ACLs in both knees, had no operation and carried on at the highest level. Before the tour Lawrence passed all the tests and scored higher than the majority. It was the right call at the time but he was unlucky. Everything that could have been done was done. Some get away with it."
Having progressed from walking to cycling to running, Dallaglio is now squatting with a heavy barbell on his back and has resumed training with Wasps. The penultimate stage is full contact work, and within a few weeks he should be back playing for club. Playing for country may take a little longer. He has to displace his fellow Wasp Joe Worsley. "Lawrence has been a pleasure to work with," Reddin said. "It's been a tough thing to do but he's so mentally strong. It has not been a great time to be out of the loop."
Reddin, who is 32, was interested in most sports at St Thomas More School in Bedford and played football at Conference level for Boston and Kettering. "I was the skinny runt running down the wing. Because I was not so skilful I tried to be one of the fittest, which meant running faster and longer than anyone else."
At Loughborough, a centre of excellence, he expanded his knowledge on the subject and became sports science officer for the Sports Council. He dealt with nine sports but gravitated towards rugby when he spent two-and-a-half seasons with Leicester Tigers. "Even before professionalism they were pretty damn impressive. Despite holding down jobs they were always looking for training sessions and were far more professional about their physical wellbeing than any soccer players. In rugby, physical conditioning is important to make an impact. In soccer there is a higher premium on skill than fitness, and sometimes it allows them to look better than they are."
At the end of 1996, when Jack Rowell was coaching England, Reddin was interviewed for the national post. "Now that the game had gone pro we were allowed to get our hands on players much more often, but in fact we were guilty of pushing too hard. You were looking to fill the days up. Rest and recovery is equally important. You dip into everything, and I've learnt from rugby league and American football."
In 1997 Reddin spent some time with the New Orleans Saints gridiron team. "It wasn't vastly different from what we were doing, although everything was incredibly well organised. It's all done on tests. If the defensive lineman doesn't do 40 yards in 4.4 seconds he's out. That's not us, although we are always looking for that one or two per cent edge that nobody else has got. The clubs already have them training at a high intensity."
A typical week under Reddin. Sunday: a session in the pool, hot and cold aqua treatment and Jacuzzi to flush out the waste products, stretching. Monday: major weights session with Olympic lifting followed by speed and endurance. Tuesday: muscle isolation and shoulder injury prevention. Wednesday: more weights, this time faster and power-based. Thursday: speed and agility. Friday: rest. Saturday: match.
Reddin has collaborated with the Centre for Nutritional Medicine on a book, Eating For England. To replace carbohydrates he recommends rice, potatoes and pasta; for protein, low-fat chicken and fish, not pork, lamb or beef. Players lose about a litre and a half of fluid in a game and should drink three litres of water a day.
What about six pints of heavy and a curry? "Nutritionists would shoot me, but it's still part of the culture of the game. As long as you don't go out on the lash every week there's nothing wrong with some old habits. It's important to relax. We've never had to give any England player a bollocking for overstepping the mark." Shame on them.
Team Twickenham: The back-room line-up
Full-time: Clive Woodward, head coach; Andy Robinson, coach (forwards); Brian Ashton, assistant coach (backs); Phil Larder, assistant coach (defence); Dave Alred, assistant coach (kicking). Performance Department: (oversees England, England A, Under-21s, and promising youngsters): Chris Spice, performance director; Phil Keith-Roach, scrummaging specialist; Simon Hardy, line-out throws; Dave Reddin, national fitness adviser; Kevin Bowring, head of élite coach development; Roy Heady, head of élite support; Tony Biscombe, technical support; Simon Kemp, head of sports medicine; Phil Pask, Barney Kenney, physiotherapists; Richard Wegryzk, masseur; Joe Lydon, sevens manager.Reuse content