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Re: Vunipola can't hack it at the top
Posted by: Leipziger
Date: 21/09/2017 07:46
A very interesting debate.

Despite the impression we might get when we see players getting 'running repairs' several times during a game, they are not machines, they are human beings. Sports science and recovery may have advanced massively in recent years, but the human body is still pretty much the same thing that has been around for 10,000 years. It is not made to withstand constant battering for 80 minutes, 30 times a year, year-after-year, with no resulting damage.

Back in the early 2000s, my mother worked with the Falcons' then-club doctor, and his opinion was that it takes the body THREE WEEKS to fully recover from an 80-minute rugby game. The key is probably how often it happens. A player can play again after 6 days' recovery, yes, but it's the cumulative impact that's the problem. In September, after a few months off, Vunipola can play a game and then another game a week later, and probably do that for a few weeks, with no loss of performance. But doing it consistently over the course of a season with no rest, will inevitably lead to some kind of drop in standard if he doesn't get sufficient rest time.

It's like saying that a person working an eight-hour day at a desk can do it day-in-day-out for years with no holidays because they get their evenings and nights off - we all know that isn't true. People burn out. If we bring sports science and recovery back into it - a person who works behind a desk for 35-40 hours a week won't magically be able to do 55-60 hour weeks consistently with no loss of performance, just by starting to drink 6 coffees a day.

I don't think money is relevant here either. Earlier this year, I worked 34 out of 35 days, at an average of nearly 9 hours a day, and I'd have worked the 35th one too had I not booked it off to move house. For the first 20-odd days I felt fine, but by 30 days I was hanging. Would it have been any easier had I been earning 200,000 a year? I don't think it would have been. Besides, people say that rugby isn't an important job - no it isn't. Rugby players put their bodies on the line (one bad tackle or dodgy scrum can paralyse a player for life) for nothing more important than our entertainment, so they deserve all the money their employers want to give them, in my opinion.

So we do need bigger squads to give players more rest time. One problem with this is though that clubs still pay their top players a lot of money, so they want as much game time out of them as possible. But England won't be of any help with players like Vunipola. The next problem is that if the salary cap rises by 2m, what happens at Saracens, for example (though it'll happen at all clubs), the likes of Billy V, Farrell, Burger and Itoje will likely go to the management and ask for 100,000 more on their next contract - and why not? They are the ones who fans pay to see, who sponsors pay to be associated with, and who make the difference between Saracens being a very good team and a brilliant team. It's a short and dangerous career too. But it doesn't help build bigger squads.

So I'm not sure what the answer is, but I certainly sympathise with Vunipola and Christian Day's views that players need to be managed better. The numbers retiring early through injury are already too high and I don't see them falling any time soon.

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