Rest and relaxation the key at altitude

NZPA     24 Aug 2006

That's the not-so-secret method for the All Blacks as they chase their first win in South Africa in three years on Sunday (NZT), on the unforgiving high veldt at Loftus Versfeld which has proved a graveyard for touring teams.

Much has been made of the effects of the thin air which burns the lungs, 1400m above sea level in Pretoria.

Past All Blacks teams have sunned themselves in at sea level in Durban before flying north the day before the match in the hope of overcoming the altitude.

Having tried that method, coach Graham Henry is now a firm believer in having as many days as possible at altitude so the players can physically adjust.

"I prefer to come up and stay here so we're accustomed to it, so there's no travel close to the game," Henry said yesterday.

"The last time I was involved with a franchise side (the Blues) we did that and we were successful."

Since arriving from New Zealand in two groups on Sunday and Monday, the All Blacks have been based at a quiet country lodge in Centurion, near Pretoria, and will transfer to their plush city hotel tomorrow.

The Hurricanes' Rebel Sport Super 14 team stayed at the same lodge this year, well out of the public eye, before beating the Bulls at Loftus Versfeld.

In recent days the All Blacks had recovered from the long flight with the help of specially designed humidifiers on their noses which were trialled on the 14-hour direct route from Sydney to Johannesburg.

It was hoped that would combat the loss of body moisture which contributes to jet lag, and players remarked they required less water on the flight after wearing the masks.

They had their first full squad training yesterday at Centurion in 25degC sunshine, a closed session which surprisingly attracted little attention from the next door secondary school whose students hardly looked twice at their famous visitors during their lunch break.

There was no live scrummaging or physical contact as the forwards went through lineout drills and the backs rehearsed their moves.

But the forwards did try out their secret weapon, a scrum machine specially imported from New Zealand for use by the All Blacks and Super 14 franchises.

"When we go to any country we want to make sure we've got the right equipment for ourselves," forwards coach Steve Hansen said.

"By sending a machine over we know we've got that covered. Whether it's different to what the South Africans are using I don't know."