Johannesburg - Edinburgh have opted for the smash and grab approach this weekend’s United Rugby Championship (URC) clash against the Lions, according to head coach Mike Blair.
The Scottish outfit face the Lions on Saturday at Emirates Airline Park (kick-off 4pm), but have decided to base themselves in Durban this week as they prepare for the clash on the Highveld.
With temperatures in the high 20s all week on the KZN coast and with Johannesburg 1700m-plus above sea-level, Blair and Co’s biggest concern this week might not be a buoyant Lions, but the manner in which their squad is managed to avoid heat and altitude fatigue.
“It is a really fine balance, isn’t it?” Blair asked rhetorically earlier this week.
“The initial research that we looked into was basically either you do 24-hours in Johannesburg and only play the game; or you spend 10 days acclimatising. So, there are two ways of doing it: Base yourselves in Durban and then come up for the game and go home, or the other way would have been to go to Johannesburg, fly into Durban and fly back to Johannesburg.
“We went with this option and we will see how things work out.
“We have been training in the heat on (Tuesday),” he continued, “which the guys will definitely get a physiological boost from, but it will also take a fair bit out of them hydration-wise and fatigue-wise as well.
“We were a little bit quicker – we usually do a double day where we have units in the morning and rugby in the afternoon but we condensed it into a slightly shorter unit and team session.
“We have been out in the heat and it has been intense but it has been a little bit shorter. We are short again on Thursday, not too much on Friday and then, hopefully, plenty in the legs and the lungs for Saturday.”
Regardless of their strategy to combat the heat and humidity of Durban and the altitude of Joburg, Blair and his squad have been boosted by the return of Scotland internationals WP Nel (prop), Stuart McInally (hooker), Grant Gilchrist (lock) and utility back Darcy Graham. That quartet of players has over 150 Test caps between them and a vast array of experience unequalled by anything the Lions possess.
🇿![CDATA]>🇦![CDATA]>💬 "We're up for the fight."— Edinburgh Rugby (@EdinburghRugby) March 29, 2022
Skills and Assistant Attack Coach Gareth Baber looks ahead to another massive test in Johannesburg.#URC // 🎥 @Galbraith_Group pic.twitter.com/36nZgBmdNd
Moreover, if selected for the Lions clash, they will form part of a matchday 23 that already had 12 internationals of various experience when they faced the wavering Sharks.
“I am glad that we were able to get them out,” Blair said.
“They came in on Saturday and just made the game (the 21-5 victory over the Sharks), which was great. They have had a little bit more time to acclimatise to the heat in training then we did prior to that. It is great for the group to have them involved - new voices, new energy, new leaders … it’s nice to mix things up a bit.”
It will be the first time the two sides meet, and the Lions will hope that the management of Edinburgh have erred in their decision to remain in Durban – they will need every advantage they can get to overcome what will be a powerful unit come matchday.