Fit for purpose
February 23, 2012
Wales' fitness guru Adam Beard insists the days of the diminutive winger are not a thing of the past © Getty Images
Wales' challenge for Six Nations glory may well rely heavily on the exploits of giant wingers George North and Alex Cuthbert but strength and conditioning coach Adam Beard insists the days of diminutive pacemen such as the recently-retired Shane Williams are far from over.
North and Cuthbert, 6ft 4in and 6ft 6in respectively, have received the plaudits for their part in Wales' victories over Ireland and Scotland with both boasting a formidable mix of physicality and skill. Williams - standing at just 5ft 7in - brought down the curtain on his international career in December and while Wales have turned to monster wingers to fill the void, Beard believes size is not all-important and cites the case of another rising star Harry Robinson.
"Warren [Gatland] always mentions that you need three key areas: size, speed and skill - and you need two of those to be successful," Beard told ESPNscrum. "If you haven't got the size then you need the other two. Young Harry [Robinson] has definitely got the speed and we will see whether he's got the skill."
Wales fared best out of the home nations in the recent World Cup with the squad's fitness one prominent factor attributed to their success. Beard has been a key figure in developing Gatland's vision of creating a powerful and lean backline - epitomised by the likes of Jamie Roberts, North and Cuthbert.
Studies published on Tuesday suggested that to succeed in a World Cup then you need a bigger backline and heavier forward pack than your opposition. Beard has recognised such studies and has identified one aspect of the modern game as integral to winning - the gainline.
"I've seen studies relating to that and we focus on impact force and momentum at the gainline," said Beard. "The faster and the bigger you are then the more momentum force you're going to have going into the gainline.
"So chaps like Jamie Roberts, Cuthbert and George North have all increased their impact force by upwards of 100 kilos; so we're starting to talk that after a 20 metres run up - they can exert a force of upwards of a tonne so it's hard to stop on the gainline. But they have to be lean and fit so we have been working hard on that aspect as you have to manufacture the weight."
One player who has benefited from Beard's guidance is British & Irish Lions Test centre Roberts. The Blues back showed signs of being back to his 2009 best in the recent campaign, and a spell on the sidelines inadvertently helped Roberts re-find his form.
Beard said: "When I first got here - looking at our strengths and weaknesses - I was speaking to Rob Howley about what he wanted from the backs and he wanted them to start working and re-generating off the ball.
"Jamie Roberts was not as efficient as he could be so we taught him how to run more efficiently. He had quite a poor running style as he was using more energy than he needed to.
"Fortunately or unfortunately as Jamie may see it, he had the wrist injury in the run up to the World Cup so that gave me five months of individual time with Jamie. We put a lot of effort into his running and that's now showing.
"He's a lot of faster and he's also put on a few kilos so he's harder to stop with his improved momentum. Jamie was quoted a few times before as saying his improved fitness allowed him to think about the next play rather than his next breath and that's refreshing for me rather than Test results.
"It's a player saying 'yep okay I can see what you've done to me - I can play better rugby' - and that's the big thing for us."
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Tom Hamilton is the Assistant Editor of ESPNscrum.