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New coach McGurn raps Irish fitness

By Gavin Mairs

Published 17/11/2003

IRELAND stars like Brian O'Driscoll were only operating at 60-70% of their potential during the World Cup because of the absence of a nationally-controlled fitness regime, it was claimed today.

IRELAND stars like Brian O'Driscoll were only operating at 60-70% of their potential during the World Cup because of the absence of a nationally-controlled fitness regime, it was claimed today.

That is the view of Ireland fitness coach Mike McGurn, who in an exclusive interview at the Sydney suburb of Manly, today revealed he had a four-year masterplan to revolutionise the way our national players train to ensure Ireland can compete with the world's best.

Having watched Australia and England defeat New Zealand and France respectively over the weekend to claim a place in the World Cup final in Sydney next Saturday, Ulsterman McGurn claimed Ireland were still two-to-three years behind the big four in terms of fitness, strength and dynamism.

And McGurn, who revealed he had just turned down offers from England Zurich Premiership clubs Leicester Tigers and Sale Sharks to verbally agree to a new four-year deal to work with Ireland to the next World Cup, said it was now essential that he had total control of the national players - which will not be music to the ears of the four provincial set-ups.

"We need a fitness revolution in Irish rugby," said McGurn, who was the fitness coach at rugby league club St Helens when they won the World Championship, Challenge Cup and Super League in 2001.

"Previously we have had to work under the realms of the provinces and then myself. But the way forward for Eddie (O'Sullivan) and myself is to have total autonomy of the national players. That means I will be controlling all aspects of fitness and strength for the next four years."

McGurn said his masterplan would include implementing a 12-week pre-season training camp for the national squad.

And he admitted that on reflection, Ireland were simply not able to cope with the physical demands of their World Cup campaign.

"Some of our players are only operating on 60-70% of their capacity, and that includes Brian O'Driscoll, because of the lack of a pre-season and too many games over the course of a season," he said.

"I think we were as fit and as strong as we could be under the regime we were working under. But I still don't think that was enough.

"The players worked really hard in the time we had them, but it is when we don't have them is where the disparity is, and that's where they probably fell down a bit.

"We need to get a lot more powerful and a lot quicker. We are slow (at the minute). We need to run the national team like a club side.

"The (quarter-final defeat to France) was a game too far for us.

"A lack of pre-season only allows you to have so many big games in the tank. We had big games against Argentina and Australia but the French game was a game too far.

"Our pack was tired, our backs looked slow. They were much more powerful and much quicker than us."

McGurn added, however, that he remained confident about the future.

"I can get players fit, fast and strong but I don't need roadblocks in my way when I am trying to do that," he said.

"I am pretty confident if I get my four-year plan the players will be in the best shape of their lives, in fact I know they will. But that only comes with hard work on their behalf and obviously from me."

Belfast Telegraph

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