2019 Rugby World Cup: Wales prepare to hit heights in Swiss Alps

By Gareth GriffithsBBC Sport Wales
Wales players training in 2015 in Switzerland
Wales players training in 2015 in Switzerland

The Swiss Alps might be the ideal destination for some holidaymakers but there will be very little chance for Wales' leading players to enjoy the stunning surroundings in the next two weeks.

As Wales look to scale the heights of the rugby world, preparations continue high in the picturesque mountains of Switzerland as the 42-man squad flies out on Wednesday for a gruelling training camp.

With the World Cup in Japan looming in September, there will be little time to enjoy the scenery of Fiesch as Wales return to the training base they used before the 2015 global tournament.

'Live high train low' will be the mantra once more. The players will be staying 2,250 metres above sea level but dropping down to training at an altitude of 1,000 metres.

The idea is the players become more accustomed to recovering when there is less oxygen available, making their bodies more efficient at using oxygen when it is available.

As well as altitude issues, extreme heat was something to contend with in 2015.

Four years ago, there were often three energy sapping sessions a day at times. Exercises included tossing a gigantic truck tyre around - as though emptying the bins - and tug-of-war contests.

This time, players will also be tackling extreme weights sessions in a gym that has been transported from their Wales training base in the Vale of Glamorgan hotel resort.

They will go through a series of exercises that will leave them exhausted before they drag themselves to the cable car that climbs back to their living quarters 1,000m higher than the training ground.

Beautiful but brutal

George North training in the Swiss Alps in 2015 alongside Dan Biggar
George North training in the Swiss Alps in 2015 alongside Dan Biggar

There will be repeat offenders such as Wales wing George North, who was in Switzerland four years ago and is preparing for his third World Cup.

The Ospreys wing summed up the contrast between the beauty of the surroundings and the pain suffered by the players.

"The last time we were there it was not much fun," said North.

"It is a stunning place to train in but a horrible thing to do. It is visually a beautiful place but it won't be beautiful for us.

"The altitude also adds a bit of a fun to it! But it is an intense two-week training camp which is not designed to be a laugh.

"If you look at the preparation camps in 2011 and 2015, they were brutal but they got us into a position where the boys felt as if they were in the best shape in the world.

"Switzerland is going to be another level up again. The guys are going to be excited but nervous and apprehensive and ready for that challenge again."

No pain no gain

Ken Owens and Kristian Dacey in action in Switzerland in 2015
Ken Owens (right) and Kristian Dacey with the tractor tyre in 2015

British and Irish Lions hooker Ken Owens is another who will be returning to the house of pain.

"The prize is always worth the sacrifices," he said.

"It is not pleasant but you know why you are doing it and what the purpose is.

"We know the graft that needs to go in and how difficult it's going to be, but you have to put the hard work in to get the rewards.

"If you have been through it before, you can see the results it gives you and the places you can get to in those close matches.

"The first thing you can turn to is your fitness and you back yourself to be able to go the distance and dig in when it's tough.

"It serves a massive purpose and worked over the last two World Cup cycles so you reap the benefits."

Missing out

James Hook was not selected in the original 2015 Rugby World Cup squad but came in as injury cover during the tournament
James Hook was not selected in the original 2015 Rugby World Cup squad but came in as injury cover during the tournament

Some players will go through all the pain and miss out on World Cup selection.

This is just the latest part of the preparation as Wales face World Cup home and away warm-up games against England and Ireland and another fitness camp in Turkey.

The provisional squad will be whittled down to 31 at the beginning of September.

Ospreys back James Hook was one of the players to miss out on the initial World Cup squad four years ago, although he was called up as injury cover during the tournament.

"They are brutal," said Hook.

"You are living near the top of a mountain. There is not a great deal to do there when you are not training, you are there for two weeks and you don't have many days off.

"It is like Groundhog Day. In the morning you have skills and conditioning and power and endurance, and in the afternoon you will have the weights and more skills.

"The boys will have been dreading this for the last six weeks but the day has come to travel out there and they will be wanting to get on with it.

"It is a tough old slog with boys being away from their families but there is a big carrot at the end of it."

Fresh faces

Ken Owens and Kristian Dacey in training in 2015
Ken Owens and Kristian Dacey in training in 2015

One player who has not endured the pain of this environment before is uncapped Cardiff Blues wing Owen Lane.

"Everybody has got a few stories about how brutal it was but I expected that from videos I have seen," said Lane.

"Four years ago I was following it on social media and I could tell how tough it looked.

"Now I have experienced a few weeks with the squad, I know how tough it is and am expecting it to step up in Switzerland.

"I would not say I was looking forward to it. But on the other hand I sort of am because I want to get involved and see how I react."

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