Blues and Mealamu show player management blueprint


James Mortimer     31 May 2011     Photosport

While not all appearances have been on the run on team, the 32-year-old has kept playing, and if anything has looked stronger as the season has progressed.

Coach Pat Lam has focused on his squad management and at times it has been considered risky.

Against the Lions earlier in the season, Lam benched Mealamu, Anthony Boric, Daniel Braid, Stephen Brett and Rene Ranger – but it proved to be a masterstroke as the Blues came home to claim the win.

With his captain Lam’s soft approach has not extended to Mealamu’s game time, but on how he is managed throughout training.

Former All Blacks captain Taine Randell, speaking to the Sunday News, said this was a good lesson with more and more rugby being played.

He said that Mealamu’s management was a “perfect example of how a well-managed player can keep turning in top-rate performances week in, week out.”

“He's also a success story for the change of thinking that has enveloped our star players in this World Cup year,” Randell continued.

“The All Blacks hooker has played every game for the Blues this season and, last week, took his overall tally of Super appearances to a Kiwi record of 130.”

Randall believed that reduction of how much time the All Blacks hooker trained was allowing Mealamu to keep turning out week after week.

“From what I hear, the Blues coach has restricted Mealamu to just one day of full-on training along with the captain's runs for most of the campaign,” Randall said.

“I've long been a believer that players burn out more from training than playing. And it's not just a physical thing – mentally it's more beneficial for him to be away to avoid getting stale. We hear so much talk about players with the x-factor – a lot of that ingredient is fed by enthusiasm that comes from mental freshness.”

He also believed that past policies - where training was the focus - has now taken a back seat with the emphasis on playing.

“It's good to see some lessons have been learned,” Randall said.

“In fact, this is almost a 360-degree turnaround. Training has been replaced by far more playing.

“Everyone loves playing and there's no substitute for being out there. Yes, you can be physically fit but there is rugby fitness and that comes only from playing. As a general rule, players tend to play better as the season goes on – as long as they are managed along the way.”

Randall also shed some light on when he was involved with the All Blacks, saying that the balance between playing and training has always been crucial.

“Finding the right mix isn't a new dilemma,” he said.

“When I first became an All Black we were involved in a planning session about how much time we needed to get up to speed before tests. About seven to 10 days was the general consensus.”

“Then veteran Frank Bunce threw in his opinion that if we came in on a Tuesday and trained Wednesday and Thursday we'd be alright. At the time, I thought that was unrealistic but, with the benefit of experience, Frank's logic now makes a bit of sense. Some people train better than they play but Frank was an example of someone who played far better than he trained.”