'Conditioning, fitness hampering Zim'

STELLENBOSCH - Zimbabwe-born South Africa rugby legend Ian McIntosh says Zimbabwe rugby age group teams continue to struggle at the annual Craven Week tournaments because they lack strength and conditioning.

The long-time Springbok selector, who has been involved in rugby for over 50 years, has been closely following the Junior Sables’ performance here in this Western Cape provincial town.

The Old Mutual bankrolled Under-18 side has lost two of their opening matches to Griquas Country Districts 17-12 and Eastern Province CD, 51-20, despite having started off brightly in both matches.

The way Zimbabwe’s strength and speed has faded in the second half of both matches has raised alarm bells to many Junior Sables supporters.

“In both games Zimbabwe started off well; for 30, 40 minutes they played some very good rugby.

Their structures were good. They got players behind the ball. They were scoring tries, they were leading, but I knew straight away they were going to lose the second half because of fitness,” McIntosh told the Daily News on the sidelines of this developmental tournament.

The former Sharks and Springbok coach fears without implementation of modern rugby trends such as strength and conditioning in schools, the Junior Sables will continue to struggle even against the lowest ranked South African rugby provincial sides.

“It’s simple, down here in South Africa conditioning of players has become a big thing. A few years ago, the teams Zimbabwe played against they would not have lasted the distance just as Zimbabwe did, because they come from smaller places. But everyone in South Africa has worked extra hard on conditioning,” he said.

McIntosh’s heart bleeds that decades after his school rugby playing days in Bulawayo, the Junior Sables are still converging for a week before taking part in the Craven Week.

“Now, I know how hard it is in Zimbabwe, players get together five days before the tournament, we also used to do that, but those days must go.

“If you want to compete here, and I believe we have the players in Zimbabwe, but if you want to compete here then you got to have a national conditioning programme, like we have done with the (Zimbabwe) Sevens side.

“This is the modern trend. Somewhere there has to be a national programme to condition within the schools for school boy rugby.

“You can’t blame the coach who comes here and loses all three matches because it takes years not just a couple of weeks, it takes years to condition players. But I was proud of the boys, the way they started off,” he said.

Zimbabwe wraps up their tour this morning against old nemesis Namibia.

The Under-18 team last beat Namibia in 2010 and will be hoping to break the jinx when they step into Paul Roos Gymnasium this morning.

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