Canterbury hosted a unique rugby training event in London where 50 competition winners were invited down to take part in a number of gruelling exercises.
Designed to test your body, the athletes – including our very own Max Skofic - were put through their paces in a series of specifically engineered drills covering speed, endurance, power and strength – the core training disciplines for rugby players of all levels.
At the event were leading rugby stars such as Will Greenwood, Adam Jones and Kevin Sinfield while experts from the world of nutrition, psychology and strength and conditioning were on hand to provide a true insight into the world of elite rugby training and offer invaluable advice.
And one of the experts in attendance was Steve Black, arguably one of the most respected fitness and psychological trainers in sport.
Black’s work has been well documented over the last decade with his most recent work being with the Newcastle United football team. Black left his beloved club two months ago and admits that was one of the toughest challenges he has had in a very successful career.
And it’s a career which has seen him work with one of England rugby’s most iconic players; Jonny Wilkinson. Their partnership began at Newcastle Falcons when the fly-half was just beginning his rugby journey and Black recalls it well.
“With my time at the Falcons, I was obviously working with the whole team,” said Black. “But with Jonny, he just caught the eye with his dedication and attitude especially towards me.
‘I have always worked with individuals and with Jonny you knew he just took in every word I said to him and was keen to develop and learn. I worked on the mind and body and other things with him and he took it all on board.”
Black continues to offer advice to Wilkinson and his friendship as well as his working relationship is as strong as it has ever been. After Wilkinson retired from the game in 2014, he stated that much of the credit during his career must be laid at Black’s door.
Black has been through some serious highs with Wilkinson, none more so then that famous night in Sydney, but has always had to pull Wilkinson through some tough times in his career.
After kicking England to World Cup glory, Wilkinson seemed plagued by injuries and Black was on hand to assist the fly-half in his recovery.
“Jonny’s injuries were never muscular,” added Black. “His trouble was that he was a brave player and sometimes, that cost him. Over his career his body took a beating whether that was with shoulder injuries, neck injuries and others too.
“He was out of the game for a long time after 2003, but he never gave in. He trained as hard as he could and demanded to be pushed to the limit.”
Black, who also worked with the British and Irish Lions in 2001 as well as Wales, has been using his knowledge and skills to currently help Scotland full-back Stuart Hogg as well as Sale’s Danny Cipriani to become better players than they already are.
However, Black is keen to stress that helping the top names in sport and even being part of the event with Canterbury last week makes his job so worthwhile.
“I have done a bit of work with Stuart Hogg and Danny Cipriani recently,” adds Black. Both present completely new tasks for me compared to what my work was like with Jonny. But what is the same, is that they are willing to learn and even coming down to this event with Canterbury highlights this. It is rewarding for me to see any player, at any level, take in what I say and use to better themselves as much as possible.”
Along with Black at the event, were England 7s nutritionist Warren Bradley and England U20 Sports Scientist Roger Eager.
Like Black, both were there to offer advice in two of the most crucial elements of the game and both Warren and Roger are looking forward to an exciting summer of rugby for England.
The 7s will be travelling to Rio for the Olympics at the end of July while the U20s host the Junior World Cup in Manchester in just a couple of weeks’ time.
“It is great to be a part of the 7s set-up in an Olympic year”, Bradley tells TRU. I don’t travel to the different events with the squad, but to know that you could be contributing to success in the rest of this season and the summer is a good feeling.”
Eager added: “I assisted the England senior squad during the Six Nations, and to work with those guys is very enjoyable. They are top athletes who always want to be at their very best and I think that is filtered down right through the national teams.
“For the U20s, we have an exciting few months ahead working with Martin [Haag] and even though it will be a challenging schedule for the players, we seem to be a good place and will be doing everything possible in Manchester to hopefully regain the trophy.”