Tonga'uiha took part in the session along with Saints team-mates Samu Manoa, Stephen Myler and James Wilson

DOUG BRIDGEMAN, Kettering’s director of rugby, had a wry smile when he returned from a skiing holiday last Friday to find himself driving through a heavy English snowfall.

The weather put paid to Kettering’s latest Midlands One East match, their home clash with Market Bosworth now scheduled for this Saturday. It’s the first of four league games that will determine whether the Blues avoid relegation during a season that has proved maddening and rewarding in equal measure.

“Everyone is extremely positive and upbeat,” says Bridgeman. “We’re finishing games better than all the opposition but unfortunately too many times we’ve given them a head start and left ourselves too much to do. Such as against Peterborough, when we went 17-0 down after 20 minutes before dominating the rest of the game.

“So it’s all about getting the start right. I predicted eight weeks ago that we would get to 52 points and I’d only slightly revise that now to 49, which would make us comfortably safe.”

As our Save Your Season winners, the amateur team has been given a performance makeover this year by the Gatorade Sports Science Institute (GSSI), with expert nutritional advice dovetailing with performance testing, skills training with Leicester Tigers and, most recently, a gym workout with Northampton Saints.

“The Save Your Season campaign has certainly added something to the guys and their preparation,” says Bridgeman. “The results may not have been quite to our liking but the advice has had a very positive effect. There’s been a clear improvement in people’s attitude towards areas like hydration.”

Injuries and unavailability have meant Kettering blooding a lot of youngsters of late, with half-backs Josh Plowright and Billy Burrell both 17. “They’ve come in at a difficult time and done really well under the circumstances. They’re developing every week.”

Scrum-half Burrell gives way this week to the more experienced Tom Bridgeman, playing his first game since having an ankle operation in September. No 8 Rory Keir and centre Joe Newman, both key players, are also available after recent injuries.

The squad will train at an indoor equestrian centre this week to ensure they beat the weather and prepare well for Market Bosworth, who sit just one point (on 36) and two places above them in the table. “There’s not a lot of difference between sides in this division,” says Bridgeman, a fact borne out by Kettering’s defeats to lowly Spalding and Peterborough straight after toppling high-flying Peterborough Lions.

The Blues go into their Easter fixture fresh from their workout with the professionals at Northampton. Saints stars Soane Tonga’uiha, Samu Manoa, Stephen Myler and James Wilson gave up one of their afternoons off to run through some of their favourite gym exercises with Kettering players.

The featured exercises were the dumb-bell push press, back squat, leg drive and scrum truck, and just when the amateur visitors thought they could relax, they were hit by a muscular endurance circuit devised by Northampton’s performance director Nick Johnston.

From boxing to rowing, tyre flipping to sled dragging, this ten-activity circuit has been known to turn hardened athletes into quivering wrecks when performed on an endless loop. The Kettering lads managed a lap and a half before collapsing in a heap, exhausted but elated. “It was painful but good painful,” said youngster Leuri Johan Marte-Martes.

Newman and forwards Chris Chapman, Josh Cox and Josh Block also had more comforting matters on their mind – food and drink. The quartet submitted food diaries for analysis by the Gatorade Sports Science Institute and were pleased to learn that their diets were broadly on the right lines. Sort of.

“There was a large variation between players, which is typical of team sport,” says the GSSI’s Dr Ian Rollo. “There were several areas in need of improvement, one being the need to space protein intake out evenly over the day, not just consume it in the evening meal.”

To discover what other common nutritional mistakes were made by the Kettering players, and to learn more about the gym session at Northampton, see the May issue of Rugby World, out on 2 April.

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