BACK-TO-BACK postponements have seen no let-up in the physical exertions of Newcastle Falcons, whose players have been subjected to the energy-sapping anguish of the yo-yo test.
With games against Cross Keys and Cornish Pirates both beaten by the big freeze, the prospects of a gentle work-load were never likely and a 20-metre tunnel of pain was what greeted them first thing yesterday morning at Gateshead College’s world-class indoor training facility.
Even hardened ten-year Premiership veterans were shifting nervously in their seats as they laced up their trainers.
The coaches on the sidelines were admitting under their breath this was the day they all dreaded.
Head of strength and conditioning Andy Smith explained: “The yo-yo test is very similar to the old beep test – the only difference being a ten-second rest between each interval.
“The reason we use it is because it is more applicable to rugby union, which is a little bit more stop-start, and as you go through the levels the beeps get closer and closer together and you have to run faster to keep going.”
Split into three groups (half-backs and back-row, front-five forwards and three-quarters) the shouts and claps of encouragement increased in pace and volume as the beeps did in tempo – bodies dropping out one by one as legs and lungs finally gave way.
“The yo-yo test is never something they look forward to,” admitted Smith, who has been able to get his hands on the players for what amounts to a “mini pre-season” due to their double postponements.
“Most of them have done it a few times now, it is not one of the more enjoyable tests they will do and they know it is going to hurt.
“For that reason there are very few players who like doing it, although Will Welch for some reason seems to enjoy the pain!
“We got good scores overall. Some lads improved on what they did in pre-season and it shows the work we have done in-season to keep them fit is paying off.
“Some lads, for a variety of reasons, did not do the yo-yo test, but they might be thinking they missed the easier option because the conditioning session we had them doing on the sidelines was probably harder than the lads who were being tested.”
Revealing this week’s mini pre-season as continuation of a regime which runs right throughout the campaign, Smith added: “We have worked hard on conditioning all the way through, and there has not been a single week where that has slipped.
“Monday and Tuesday every week are big conditioning days both in terms of our gym work and the stuff we do in the rugby sessions and the guys who don’t play on a weekend all get comparative sessions.
“The level of detail and time spent working with the players does not change when they are not in the team and that sort of continuity is important for when they do get the call-up.”
Thankful for the opportunity to use a set-up rivalling anything in British sport, he added: “Gateshead College have been incredibly helpful in letting us come down and use their world-class facilities.
“It is perfect for us with being indoors and has meant that the lads doing the endurance testing have not had to battle the elements as well as the clock.
“It is a relationship we are keen to build on and the guys down there do a great job with all the know-how and facilities they can offer.”
Newcastle Falcons’ own gym, tucked away under the West Stand seats at Kingston Park, was occupied by the England Saxons squad in preparation for Friday’s game there against Scotland A.
The Saxons will also make use of the synthetic field at the Falcons’ Druid Park training base due to waterlogged pitches at their intended practice ground, Smith stating: “We have a good facility.
“I’m not sure how many people realise that, or how many England coaches are aware of it.
“The last time any of the England conditioning coaches were up at Kingston Park was in 2009, but we have a good gym there and it is great to see the England Saxons boys making use of it this week.
“I have spoken with Andy Edwards, their conditioning guy, and hopefully this time next year we might have a few lads of our own in that Saxons squad spreading the word.”