The DHL Stormers players and coaches are excited to be back at training while adhering to the new COVID-19 regulations at the High-Performance Centre in Bellville.
Having spent the last four months training on their own, the DHL Stormers squad took a big step forward this week after SARU announced that non-contact training for professional rugby teams could start again.
With the squad divided into two teams and then further sub-divided into training groups of five, the players and coaches have quickly adjusted to the new training protocols as set out by government and SARU.
DHL Stormers Backline and Attack coach Dawie Snyman said that just to be back in each other’s company at the High-Performance Centre has been a big boost for everyone.
“It is great to be back, even if it is just standing outside in the sun and seeing the players work a bit, it is our passion, so to be out on the field and see a few faces that we haven’t seen in a while is great, so it is awesome to be back at HPC.
“We have to keep to the restrictions, but what we have added this week is the ball and working in groups of five. So at least we are not running on our own at home, I think that gives a bit of extra motivation for the players because they are running in lanes with a guy next to him who is actually pushing him a bit.
“Now and then just to be able to pass a ball, you can see the timing is a bit out for some of the players who haven’t handled a ball in a while. I think that is a nice progression and it is just good to have the guys around each other and pushing each other a bit,” he said.
Snyman added that given the current uncertainty about return to play, the focus is on making the most of this next phase without looking too far ahead.
“The first thing is that the small groups are so happy to see each other and we are training and taking it day-by-day,” he said.
DHL Stormers team doctor Jason Suter explained that there are exhaustive protocols in place to screen each person that enters the High-Performance Centre, which has been adapted significantly for the return to training this week.
“Together with the government regulations, we have incorporated the principles of COVID-19 prevention into making the workplace and specifically the HPC as safe as possible.
“This started two weeks ago with mandatory COVID-19 testing, we were all tested and only those with negative tests were allowed to enter the facility.
“In addition there is wellness screening, which has a COVID-19 component, to make sure that when the person is at home they have no symptoms before they leave and then when they arrive there is a second COVID-19 screening app which incorporates temperature checks and screening before they enter the facility.
“They then sanitise their hands and then enter the facility. The app will kick out anyone who has any signs or symptoms or contacts.
“The facility itself has been deep-cleaned and we have divided the players and coaching staff into two separate teams which do not come into contact with each other. Within those teams, they are separated further into stacks of five players. Those groups basically work in isolation and we try not to let them come into contact with each other.
“We are being very strict on the basics of COVID-19 prevention, which is the use of masks at all times. In addition to that we have changed the flow of the facilities so that we don’t have players going past each other, it is a one-way traffic system and we have obviously improved ventilation and cleaning,” he said.
Suter added that he has been pleasantly surprised by the fitness levels of the players, with the long-term injuries all on-track with their recovery.
“Fitness-wise the guys are where we expect them to be. They are on a par with the beginning of a pre-season and some of them are slightly better than that. We have been pleasantly surprised that the majority of the squad are a little better off than we would have expected.
“Initially we are limited to non-contact fitness work, which is what we are doing now, so it is just increasing their base, cardiovascular load and their strength. We will move more into skills-based non-contact training as we progress and we are allowed to do that.
“In terms of long-term injuries, the good news is that everybody is on track. However, all the players are currently stuck in the training and rehabilitation phase, we can’t do contact or contact progression. Until then we can’t give accurate return to play dates.
“The good news is that Kitsie [Steven Kitshoff] is training fully from Monday with the team in terms of what the team is allowed to do. Bongi [Mbonambi] will join full team training by the end of next week and Pieter-Steph [Du Toit] should be the same. Siya [Kolisi] is training fully already with the team and Herschel [Jantjies] will be training fully with the team by next Monday,” he said.
Snyman explained that in terms of coaching, the focus is currently on each individual and reaching their specific goals, while the coaching staff has also been keeping an eye on developments in New Zealand and Australia in terms of the new law interpretations and trends.
“Each guy has got his individual goals and we know what each player is working towards. That also gives some motivation, that we can focus on getting each player at the best of his ability and the best condition they can be in.
“We have done our homework and looked at ourselves mostly and where we are as a team and what we want to implement. When we start playing again we want to implement those and we are ready to go with that.
“In terms of opposition we are having a good look at what is happening in New Zealand and Australia. Especially with the new interpretations of the laws around the breakdown because I think that is something that we need to adjust to,” he said.
He added that the community work that the team has done during lockdown has given the players and management a sense of determination to represent and inspire those that are experiencing hardships in their lives.
“It is amazing to see how much the players want to contribute and how much they care for the people around them in their communities. That is what we want to stand for as a team, we don’t just want to be professional players that turn up on a Saturday and play rugby. We care for the people around us and for the people that support us.
“I think it has also put a lot into perspective for a lot of the players, to see what people go through daily. It makes you humble and makes you realise what you have got. I’m sure once we are able to play again those guys will play for those people, knowing the privilege you have got to be healthy, play rugby and be in a good environment,” he said.