This has definitely been my toughest pre-season ever as we prepare for the World Cup. We had two camps in Poland in July doing lots of weights and conditioning work. It’s been competitive and we’re pushing each other.
One of the standouts has been Justin Tipuric. He’s just so fit; I’ve nicknamed him Justin Selassie after the long-distance runner Haile Gebrselassie.
At the camps in Spala we used cryotherapy chambers. It’s like an ice bath but for your whole body and it speeds up your recovery, so we were able to do more fitness sessions than we would at home.
I’d not used cryotherapy chambers before, but I’ve felt the benefits. First, you go into an outside chamber that’s -60°C to get your body used to it, then you go into a smaller chamber of -140 for three minutes. There’s loads of dry ice so you can only see about a foot in front of you.
We’d go in together in groups of four and five, and it was absolutely freezing. We’d play a few word association games or have a sing-song to help pass the time. Or I’d listen to a song on my i-Pod to get me through. I’m a big fan of hip-hop group The Roots and I’d play air drums as no one could see me.
You have to make sure you’re totally dry when you go into the chambers – any sweat or water will freeze. One day we went in and Toby Faletau hadn’t dried his hair properly. When we came out half his Afro was frozen; it was rock-hard!
As well as the Poland camps, we’ve also been doing yoga as part of our World Cup preparations. It’s nice to go from a tough rugby session and then relax with a yoga class, and it helps with your flexibility.
Dan Baugh has come in from Cardiff Blues and he’s been doing wrestling and grappling with us. We had a ‘king of the ring’ session where two people would wrestle, with the winner staying on. I had a weight disadvantage but in our group Dan Lydiate and Ryan Jones stood out.
I was honoured to be asked to captain Wales against the Barbarians in June, especially as I’m still young. I thought if it happened I’d turn it down because I’d be too nervous, but when Warren (Gatland) rang to ask me I bit his hand off. I was more nervous than I’d ever been for a Test, but reflecting on it now I’m really proud.
I was also voted Player of the Year by the Welsh Rugby Writers’ Association and I was really pleased with that. I remember James Hook winning it last year and thinking I’d love to be seen as the form player in Wales. I’ve been working really hard and it’s nice for that to be recognised.
After last year, when I broke my jaw before the New Zealand tour, I’m realistic enough to know that people will pick up injuries before the World Cup. Hopefully I’m not one of those players, but I’m trying to stay relaxed and to think about the short term, so for now I’m just concentrating on training well and performing in the warm-up games.
This article appeared in the September 2011 issue of Rugby World Magazine.
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