England conditioning program focuses on turning strengths into super strengths

England’s head of strength and conditioning Jon Clarke takes physical attributes and aims to elevate them to a new level.

By Press Association Published: 13 July 2022 - 11.00am

Ellis Genge flattening Michael Hooper in one of the enduring images of England’s series against Australia so far was made possible by a conditioning program designed to turn players’ strengths into “super strengths”.

Genge was galvanised for the 25-17 victory in the second Test by provocative comments made by ‘Tongan Thor’ Taniela Tupou in the build up, but the firepower needed to deliver a symbolic carry could not be generated by rage alone.

Instead, it was the product of a training regime overseen by England’s head of strength and conditioning Jon Clarke that takes defining physical attributes and aims to elevate them to a new level.

Whether it is Henry Arundell’s ability to accelerate from jog to high speed in a heartbeat or the unrivalled stamina of Tom Curry, former Great Britain rugby league international Clarke has the task of fine tuning elite athletes.

Ellis Genge (left) trains with England's head of strength and conditioning Jon Clarke (right). Short bursts of boxing are used to improve players' fitness (Andrew Matthews/PA)
Ellis Genge (right) trains with England’s head of strength and conditioning Jon Clarke (left). Short bursts of boxing are used to improve players’ fitness (Andrew Matthews/PA)

“Ellis Genge’s acceleration and speed for a front rower is absurd. He’s 118kg and with his acceleration he can beat a lot of people,” Clarke told the PA news agency.

“If you made him do a 10-minute run, he probably wouldn’t come anywhere, but when he accelerates hard there aren’t many who can live with that. Michael Hooper felt it! Once Ellis caught the ball, the force he produced in two metres was incredible.

“There are other players who we need to go for a little bit longer and you want more endurance from them, but for Ellis that’s his strength – his repeat acceleration ability.

“People always ask ‘what is this player’s or that player’s weakness?’. Well we do work on those, but we also try to turn their strengths into super strengths and Ellis is one of those players.”

Eclipsing Genge’s statement carry for sheer wow factor was Arundell’s sensational solo try in the first Test that announced to the world the arrival of an electric player who has been causing a stir in his debut professional season.

Arriving off the bench to make his England debut, Arundell surged between two Wallabies defenders and raced around a third while switching the ball between hands in a moment that united athletic brilliance with rugby instinct.

Still only 19 years old, the London Irish wing has drawn comparisons with Bryan Habana, David Campese and Matt Giteau.

Clarke sees similarities with another great of the game in Jason Robinson – a dual code international who he played with and against – and one attribute above all others stands out.

“Henry is phenomenal. He’s got that combination of pace, power and a good instinctive rugby brain. He’s very, very strong with a low centre of gravity,” Clarke said.

“But the thing that impresses me most is his pick up from jogging to very quick in a very short space of time. If you look at his try, at best he’s jogging when he gets the ball….and then bang. He goes from producing not much force to loads of force very quickly.

England began the series with Curry at openside but concussion ended his tour after the first Test and he has since returned home, taking with him the best engine in Eddie Jones’ squad.

“Particularly when he’s put a few games back to back, Curry will be at the front,” Clarke said.

“My personal belief with conditioning is that while it’s about capacity, there’s a psychology to it too. What place are you prepared to push yourself to in order to reach that level of fitness?

“Curry would be at top of that as well. He has the training capacity, but his psychology is also incredible. He’s a top, top athlete and also an unbelievable rugby player.

Tom Curry is the fittest player in England's squad
Tom Curry is the fittest player in England’s squad (Adam Davy/PA)

“He’s one of those players who sometimes you have to protect him from himself. You have have to tell him ‘you’re all right, go recover’ because he’s a ‘more guy’ and he’s so driven.

“That’s the art and science of coaching – you’ve got to know who to push, who to pull, who to protect and who needs a bit more.”

England’s integrated approach between strength and conditioning and rugby means Clarke’s role extends to providing Anthony Seibold with assistance in coaching the defence, particularly around ruck defence.

Players are prepared to peak twice each week – a smaller peak for the main training session on Wednesday and then match day itself – and Clarke’s department must “feed in positively to the rugby programme because the rugby is the be all and end all”.

Eventually the 43-year-old former Warrington hooker would like to become a dedicated defence coach, most likely after next year’s World Cup, but the immediate concern is getting the players “fit and strong” for Saturday’s series decider at Sydney Cricket Ground.

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