Fitness was one of the keys to Pooler's great success
12:07pm Thursday 10th October 2013 in Sport
THE FINAL of our series of exclusive extracts from former Wales and Pontypool forward Alun Carter’s fascinating new book, which is published today, charting the highs and lows of Pooler’s great history focuses on one of the keys to their great success in the 1970s and 1980 – supreme fitness.
ALUN Carter and Nick Bishop’s ‘Seeing Red: Twelve Tumultuous Years in Welsh Rugby’, published in 2008, was an award-winning insider’s view into the national game at the top between 1998 and 2007 when Carter was Wales’ head analyst and the duo follow it up with ‘The Good, the Bad and the Ugly: The Rise and Fall of Pontypool RFC.’
Published by Mainstream Publishing today, the Argus runs the third of three extracts from another enjoyable and eminently readable book.
In this excerpt, the reader is introduced to how legendary coach Ray Prosser got his sides mentally and physically hardened as he made Pooler the kings of Welsh rugby, champions in 1973, 1975, 1984, 1985, 1986 and 1988.
“PLAYING for Pontypool was a professional business, without the money, and I believe we were the first club in the UK to take a professional attitude towards fitness.
“Terry Cobner says: ‘Fitness was huge for Pontypool. If there was one word that could encapsulate the Prosser philosophy, it would have to be “fitness”; if it was a phrase, it would have to be “fit for purpose”.
We aimed to be fitter and harder than everyone else and as a result we stuck to our game objectives for longer than anyone else. We had the attitude that even if someone scored more points than us, they would never beat us. We would be there waiting for them the next time. If you’re not fit, you’re b*******, because when the legs go the mind follows. It’s inevitable. Everything stems from your physical conditioning. Pross would say, “I don’t mind you coming off, as long as your head’s under your arm!” Eddie Mogford would just come on with his magic sponge and smack you around the chops until you got up.
‘I don’t know how many other clubs would have had the guts to implement the programme Ray did. I don’t think the players would have accepted it, and moreover I’m not sure that Ray’s methods would have translated to the national team: there would have been too many players coming in from too many different environments. I doubt they would have been willing to subject themselves to the harshness of an environment to which we had become accustomed – and even grew to like after a while.’ (Terry Cobner)
Ray Prosser would say, ‘Use your fitness as a weapon against your opponents because that’s what it is.’ Most games were won and lost in the final quarter, and that was our time. Pross
made a point of reminding us to square our shoulders and stand tall at all those fourth-quarter lineouts, when there would be four or five opposition forwards with their hands on their knees and blowing hard. It was a huge psychological, as well as a physical, advantage for us whenever we saw that tell. We were there, looking down on them as they struggled. We knew we had them where we wanted them, that we could sustain our patterns of play more accurately and for longer.
Eddie Butler remembers: ‘Pontypool looked at it as a compliment to be seen as short-haired, humourless, one-pint-and-we’re-off types, and we didn’t discourage people from forming that image of us. For us, it was business – as near to professionalism as you could get without actually being professional. We didn’t have much time to smile because we
took our rugby very seriously and were proud of that fact.
‘Two weeks before the end of the season we would still have thirty willing bodies turning up for training and doing an awful lot of hard work. Fitness, especially among the forwards, had
a huge emphasis at Pontypool. When you had eight very fit, big men roaming around the pitch at high speed, you could do a great deal of damage.
‘We trained all the way through the summer, there was no “time off”. We just kept up the pace and ran straight on through until September arrived; it was business as usual at Pontypool. We looked at ourselves as professionals long before they ever
thought of professionalism in rugby.’ (Eddie Butler)
Graham Price found that his athletic background naturally complemented Ray Prosser’s demands in the area of physical conditioning: ‘My athletic background helped me understand
what was necessary on the training front. I never took that for granted. I did six hours’ training a week, every week, and because of my background I knew that fitness would benefit my performance on the field. I just carried it all straight into my rugby and I never found it a chore – or even a means to an end. It was what I did, it was what I was used to and it was
what I enjoyed doing. There were no fitness advisors or nutritionists around in
those days, so I used to sit around after a match or a training session trying to earwig and pick up little training tips from the guys ten or twelve years older than me – but it turned out
I could have been the one giving them the tips!”
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