What do sides in the 13-team division do on their week 'off'? We take a look
The Premiership bye weeks explored
Perhaps it’s a case of 13 being lucky for some, but with an odd number of teams in the Gallagher Premiership this term, so arises a new regular season occurrence to plan around: the ‘bye week’, when they have no fixture to play.
And though you may assume that as the sport focuses more acutely on player welfare that giving frontline players a week off is a no-brainer every time, there are several contextual factors for teams to deal with.
So while Bath have given players the week off as they have no Premiership fixture to contest this weekend, the club also point out that players’ loads are managed over a period of blocks of weeks and that, when they next have a bye (round 20, as it stands), the scheme for that training week will very much depend on what the planned load is for players at the time.
Wasps and Saracens, who had byes in rounds one and two respectively, took different approaches. Wasps trained as they would normally leading up to round one, then used it as an extra week of pre-season, in effect. Although the club started back for pre-season at the same time as their rivals and played two pre-season games, week one was used as elongated preparation for facing Bristol in round two. Though the players were given the weekend off.
Then in round two, according to Sarries, they had rugby training and some “conditioning top-ups” and reviews of the previous outing, without the build-up to another bout.
If you want to know the contextual considerations, though, it’s worthwhile asking a head of athletic performance, like Gareth Tong at Harlequins.
“We have a couple of permutations of how we applied our training week, so Friday games, Saturday or Sunday games, and obviously what they follow,” he tells Rugby World. “So at the moment we’ve got two Fridays on the run (they face Bristol at home on Friday night, then Sale away the following Friday).”
You can get shorter turnarounds, going from a Saturday game one week to a Friday the next, but also if, say, you have two Sunday games in a row, you can just treat it as a ‘normal’ training week. According to Tong, you also have to factor in travel up the day before, if it’s an away game of some distance, versus how you treat a home week and more.
When the TV schedule is sent on down and they know what timings and days they are working with, Tong, Tom Batchelor (lead sports scientist) and Mike Lancaster (head of medical) will get together with the coaches and throw around what they think works best.
Tong continues: “Depending on where it is, it’s a big factor. So when we’re looking at the bye week, obviously there’s no fixture which is sort of novel. We’ve had LV= (Cup games) before where we were able to rest some of our first-team players or key players and you could give other players an opportunity to get some game time.
“What the bye week offers that that doesn’t is actually the opportunity for everyone to get a break if needed, if we think it’s the best course of action.”
At first, Tong thought the bye might halt momentum. Then he saw the potential blessing of a week off if players had picked up niggles in the first few rounds. On where he lands now, after the fact, he says: “What we basically looked at was exactly where we are in terms of fitness as a team. Because we’re still developing our fitness.
“We have a relatively short pre-season, to the norm. But it’s quite a good thing as well because you don’t have to be in top condition on game week one. I think if you go for that you’re a bit short-sighted, and the season will be long and hard. So we’re still developing fitness. Fatigue, mental and physical, is not super high yet. And then we’re looking at momentum. It’s those three things that we have to balance to go, ‘Okay, is this a full training, a week of, part training?’ Etc, etc.”
Quins only have three total training days, with just two ‘meaningful’ physical days, in a normal training week. Therefor, in a typical Saturday to Saturday match week, they would have Sunday off and do light training on what Tong calls a tactical Monday – “Me and you could do it and not be sore!” he laughs – on a shortened, 3G pitch. As well as their review work.
They usually have their more demanding days on Tuesday and Thursday, with totally off-site days on a Wednesday and a Friday. They are not a team who do a ‘captain’s/team run’ the day before the game.
That is, Tong thinks, one of the best things they have initiated at Quins, as well as getting rid of ‘double day’ sessions on the pitch, so that there’s not a units session on a Tuesday that drags on in the morning, followed by the tougher session of the week later that day. Now, scrummaging prep is worked into/around a weights session that is reduced. All of it cuts down on physical demands and stops players from being switched on all the time.
Ever since Covid hit, players have been used to doing some solo training anyway, and the performance coaches trust guys to go it alone, so a week completely off is not seen as a downside. But with their first bye so early, they decided for that week to have three days together during the week, but with an off-site event that had nothing to do with training on the Monday. Then it was two training days, with the later one purely focused on Bristol.
The knock-on effect of that is that Quins come in this week, ahead of Bristol on Friday, and train just two days as if it is a regular Tuesday-Thursday affair. “We did our ‘Monday’ last week,” Tong says. “We just saw the opportunity to get ahead of this week, so we could go into the Bristol game having done our full attack and defence day rather than a modified week.”
Quins’ next bye week will be in round 21, sandwiched between a game away to Bristol and then away to London Irish. The days they fall on, the accumulative fatigue of the group, the momentum they have built and what results have been like could mean that they approach that week without a fixture totally different to this time.
All in all, it will be fascinating to see what teams learn from their season juggling byes.
Bye weeks by round
- London Irish
- London Irish
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