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A brutal battle for survival - what an Eddie Jones training session is really like

Danny Care does a sprint drill in England training - A brutal battle for survival - what an Eddie Jones training session is really like
Danny Care is hoping that his latest injury setback is not serious enough to take him off England's standby list Credit: getty images

Eddie Jones was very clear from day one that this World Cup will be won by the fittest team. Going into the last tournament four years ago, we did a training camp in Denver that I thought was the worst thing ever. Little did I know that training under Eddie would be even more brutal. The sessions are shorter, but a lot sharper. A lot of the time it is just about survival.

He was one of the first coaches to raise the intensity of training beyond what it would be in the game. A lot of time is spent on the analysis of metres per minute, how hard you are working and your explosive sprint distances, which is when you are running flat out. Sometimes you are doing 150-160% explosive sprints over what you would do in a match during a training session, which may only be 30-40 minutes. So when it comes to a game you know you can do it and you know you can recover from it.

Unfortunately that has broken a few players. When you are training at that intensity and you throw in contact then injuries are inevitable. As a player you are always concerned. There were times when you just want to survive. It sounds awful but you just want to get through the session and hope it is not you who picks up the injury.

Eddie was always very clear that we had to push the boundaries. Because England have such a large playing base then it may have been a case that they think well ‘if one breaks then there are another three or four who can come in’. Some countries don’t have that depth. We do at England. At times you got the feeling that the attitude was that if one goes down then there’ll always be another cab off the rank. If you want to make an omelette then you have to break some eggs. At times as a player, you realise you are a pawn. Everyone is dying to get in there because it is such an amazing experience to play for England and you know if you are the one who goes down then there will be someone else who can come in and take your spot.

Eddie’s other big emphasis was on what he calls reform and reload, which is how quickly you get back onto your feet after you make a tackle. It is like a mental trigger that as soon as you have done one action or one impact – no matter whether it was good or bad – you need to be ready to do the next one. Eddie would show clips of New Zealand and how they make a tackle and got back in the game the next phase. We always knew that’s the gold standard and that we had to better than that to beat them.

The goal was to be back on your feet within three seconds. If you manage it that’s a plus, if you don’t then that is a minus. You’ll then get an overall percentage based on what you do in a session. If you do get seven pluses and three minuses then you are on 70 per cent, which is not good enough. Eddie wants everyone over 90 per cent. There will be times in training or in games where people hold you down and he still wants you to fight your way out of that and get back on your feet.  

After every session, your scores in both attack and defence would be put up on a board and on TVs showing where you ranked and whether you were in the top half or the bottom half. 

I have been in that bottom half before and it is not a place you want to be. You certainly don’t want to finish last. That’s when you see players training in pink or gold bibs. That shows you are the person who has not worked hard enough off the floor and that you are letting the team down.

It is like muscle memory, if you do that in training then you learn to do that in a Test match where it really counts. That’s why you see people like Maro Itoje racing up off the floor and running that back-against-the-grain line to score against Ireland. That’s also why Eddie is so good at what he does. He is on you every time to do it because there is that one time there might be a defender being slightly lazy and because you have worked harder than him you can break that tackle. That might be the opportunity that wins you the game. 

There is a psychological element to pushing that hard because he wants to see who wants it the most. There are times when you are involved in a session and you think this cannot get any worse and somehow it does. He always says to you “we don’t know how far you can go, you don’t know how far you can go so let’s just give it a crack and see.” He tells us, "I guarantee you’ll find a way to get that" and you do. As players you would obviously like it to be easier because you don’t enjoy that pain of getting flogged every day but you completely understand the need for it.

There really is no hiding place or no shortcuts that you can take. When we were in Argentina a couple of years ago, we did urine tests every morning to see how hydrated you were. Eddie said if you are not hydrated enough, you won’t train. We all thought ‘oh yeah, that won’t happen’. One morning Jamal Ford-Robinson turned up quite dehydrated and he was banned from training. He just got told to stay in the hotel. Before, another coach would have let it slide, but Eddie will call you out and say you are letting the team down by not getting yourself as prepared as you should be to train.

I know the boys have worked incredibly hard this summer and you saw how great they looked against Ireland. They are in amazing shape. All that hard work does have a pay-off. I’m sure they were all relieved to get on the plane to Japan, but I think the main feeling will be pride. Unfortunately I never got to experience getting on a plane to go to a World Cup after I got injured in one of the final warm-up games in 2011.

Injury struck again two weeks ago. It all happened pretty quickly. One of the lads fell on my ankle on Wednesday, I went for a scan that afternoon, saw the specialist the next day and decided we would have the operation on the Monday. I have been told it is 6-8 weeks, but I am a pretty quick healer.

Has the England door completely closed? I will be working my tail off to get back fit as soon as possible for Harlequins and if I am back fit and they needed me in the knockout stages then I would be there. I’m an eternal optimist. Look at Stephen Donald playing in the 2011 World Cup final. You never know.