In 2019, Huw Bennett caused shock – as well as laughter – among Wales’ players when he arrived at training by paragliding off a mountain in the Swiss Alps.
Four years later, Bennett is again keeping Warren Gatland’s squad on their toes through a combination of brutal fitness drills and unusual motivation techniques.
For their third consecutive World Cup pre-season, Wales have travelled to the Swiss village of Fiesch for an altitude training camp designed to get Gatland’s party into peak physical condition.
In Fiesch, Wales’ players sleep at altitude at the top of the mountain range where heights reach nearly 3,000 metres above sea level.
Wales’ mantra is ‘live high, train low’ – the ultimate aim being to bolster the squad’s cardiovascular fitness for the World Cup which begins in France in September.
Wales have been training in the Swiss Alps ahead of the Rugby World Cup later this autumn
The side have been put through their paces by former player Huw Bennett, who believes Wales can reap the rewards from training at altitude
The team are currently surpassing the expectations of the coaches in Switzerland
They travel between their hotel and the training pitch via a gondola, although that was on one occasion far too simple for Wales’ head of physical performance Bennett.
‘It was nine days into the camp and I felt like the players needed some kind of pick up,’ he said, remembering the build-up to 2019.
‘Me and Bobby (Stridgeon) did it (paragliding). The gondola system is different now. They come every 30 seconds. Back then it was every half an hour so there was a big emphasis on if you missed the gondola, you were going to be doing a forfeit.
‘We staged running to the gondola and just missing it. The boys were warming up down below and we came paragliding in while Mission Impossible was playing.
‘I don’t want to replicate what we did then, but we might have something up our sleeve again this time.’
Bennett is the man in charge of getting Gatland’s players into the right state – both mentally and physically – to be able to challenge the game’s best at the World Cup.
He is happy with Wales’ development so far, with head coach Gatland able to bring more rugby elements into his team’s sessions earlier than initially planned.
Gatland’s players are being pushed to their physical limits in Fiesch – a venue where they go about their business unknown to the locals.
As well as the altitude, Wales also have to cope with soaring temperatures touching 30 degrees.
‘I do have a bond with the lads because they know I like to go to dark places at times,’ said Bennett, with a wicked smile.
‘We get the benefits from the live high, train low method and also from the unique experience of being here. The coaches feel it works and the best thing is the players feel the same.
‘You have to plan everything properly so you don’t break people. You don’t want to take them to dark places just for the sake of it.
‘We’ve got a number of core tests we use. Coming here, guys are surpassing the numbers they were setting at the end of Switzerland last time.
‘Speaking to the players, they feel in a much better place, even in our first four days of Switzerland than we did leaving Switzerland last time.’
After past trips to Fiesch in 2015 and 2019, Wales reached the quarter-finals and semi-finals of the World Cups in those respective years.
It is clear the approach works. Now, Gatland is hoping for a repeat trick after what has been a tumultuous season in Welsh rugby dominated by chaos on and off the field.
In Switzerland, Wales’ players are asked to rate how hard they find Bennett’s fitness sessions out of 10.
The side have previously headed out to the Alps to train ahead of past World Cups
They subsequently went on to reach the quarter finals and semi finals in 2015 and 2019
Dan Lydiate (left) was pictured in training and will be hoping his side can go deep in the tournament
Wales will play Uruguay, Fiji, Australia and Georgia in the group stages of the competition
There haven’t been many low scores. To be in Fiesch this weekend has been to witness Gatland’s players hard at work. No stone is being left unturned when it comes to preparation. ‘
‘If they are putting eights on there they simply aren’t working hard enough. There were definitely a couple of tens on Saturday,’ Bennett said.
‘When we come to Switzerland it’s not for the players to feel the sessions are easier. It’s so we can push them harder. The boys will say they have had a few hard ones already but I can assure them there’s a few more hard ones to come. They have got a really good attitude.
‘We give them an insight sometimes into what the session is. But sometimes we let the rumours run because it’s quite funny what comes back.’
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