Blair Cowan and David Porecki from London Irish sat down with us to answer all your burning questions
- Interviewed by Shani Kaplan
Blair Cowan second from left and David Porecki far right.
Always wanted to know more about professional rugby? What a standard day looks like? How the athletes eat, sleep, train and focus? You're in luck- we have interviewed London Irish's Co-Captains for you!
Firstly, thank you for doing this interview guys! How long have you been playing rugby professionally?
David:Since 2014. My first professional contract was with the NSW Waratahs, I debuted for them in South Africa towards the end of the year, a couple days after returning home from that tour, I was lying jetlagged on my fiancée's couch and received a text message from my agent with an offer from Saracens for 4 months as cover for those leaving for the World Cup. Shortly into the 4 months, I extended for the rest of the year with them. After that I moved to London Irish and have been here ever since!
Blair: I would say 14 years. I grew up in rugby like most kids in New Zealand do. I played rep during school then quit it completely and went to the Gold Coast, QLD for a year and surfed and partied and returned fat. That was when I joined the local club to lose some weight. I then made it to the Prems. I got asked to play in Hurricanes academy after having a big year in the prem. Basically, there was a lot of good players in my position, and it was very competitive, but my skills coach really liked me and knew I had a British passport. He sold me the surfing dream of Cornwall to get me over here to play for Cornish Pirates. I was there 3 years and then was at Worcester for a season and a half, and now have been at London Irish for 7 years (playing for Scotland during that).
We all really want to know, what does a typical training week look like?
It's funny how many people don't quite understand the nature of playing rugby full time and how long the hours are. We often get asked, "So what else do you do?" 😂
Every training morning the team is expected in around 8 am-8:30 am to eat breakfast, and some might even be at the pool beforehand making sure they get their body activated for the day.
Monday we normally have an hour of upper body in the gym followed by a position specific review session. And then we have lunch, review the previous game and preview the next week’s game plan. After that we have a training session out on the field that goes for about 2 hours and is more of a low-key session being 2 days after our last game. It helps get the blood flowing.
Tuesday is the big day, so we start with lower body weights, us forwards have a line out session, and then we have lunch followed by a team meeting and then our big session of the week (which is contact training; live scrums, mauls so heavy contact). They call this “test match Tuesday”. After that we do some recovery at the pool usually so finish around 4:30.
Wednesdayis an off/ recovery day. We try and do some sort of recovery like pool/sauna/massage and mobility. I (David) like to take the dog for a long walk. Other people like different things to get their body feeling right.
Thursday we have a bit of a lie-in and we have a lighter day. We focus on detail. It is more of a short and sharp session. We start at 9 and we have a morning “power session” in the gym like banded jump squats, box jumps, explosive bench press. Explosive movements. After that another line out session. Then we break for food, have a team meeting and head out to rugby for a shortened session on the field to check our team moves. It is our last energised session before the weekend.
Fridayis called a “captain’s run” we meet in the change room, get our messages across for the game and the captain will run us through a session of our team plays. Essentially, we are just polishing up on everything and getting the body moving so we aren’t sluggish for the game.
Saturday we play usually. This is the big day!
Sunday is a complete off day. I.e a day to eat a LOT of food 😉
In the pre-season things are different as we don’t have games on the weekends we spend a lot of time focusing on strength and conditioning goals. Right now, in the middle of the season we are focused on rugby skills individually. For me (David) as a hooker, this is throwing and scrummaging. In the pre-season, we are trying to get as fit and strong as possible. As an example, last pre-season Ifocused on putting 3kg of good size on. The days are much longer and intense as we don't need to taper off for games. Our bodies are pushed to the limit and we often will try different styles of training like wrestling, pilates and others.
What movements are most important in the gym for rugby do you think?
D: Big compound lifts like squat and bench press. I will always focus on those movements and then accessories like shoulder work, glute work and as I have a history of hamstring injury, I pay extra attention to hamstring exercises.
B: Compound lifts are big but because I have had a history with knee injuries I really have to tailor movements for that. I do exercises like concentric squats, so I don’t go as low and have assistance at a certain level of the movement. I also do leg extensions to try and load the right areas and work around my knee. It is bespoke style when you get to this level and you need to develop an awareness of what you know you need. I am a bit older than the majority of players on the team so I hit the weights a lot more to keep my body where it needs to be and work on injury prevention.
Wow, that is intense! How do you back up so many days of hard workouts?
D: For me personally, I prioritise my sleep as number 1, making sure that everything around my sleep is good. The room temperature has to be cold (to my fiancée's dismay), and as dark as possible, I don’t eat too close to bedtime and have a night time chamomile tea before bed. Secondly, I am relatively disciplined with my food during the week. And lastly- recovery. People have different things they like, but I have found the best thing for me is going for walks, and I like mobility and massage over sauna and baths because I am a bit impatient.
B:Nutrition is huge for me. As much as I may not be as strict as Dave, I know exactly what my body needs during the week. When I train more intensely I eat more and make sure I always adapt. If I am not that hungry I know I still need to eat more after a big session for recovery and will force myself to do so. I also love the pool. If I am sore close to a game, I try and get off my feet. I will cancel plans if they need me to be walking around a lot because I know I will get stiff afterwards and now I know this through trial and error.
On that note, with sleep, how many hours a night do you aim for?
D: I try and aim for between 7-9 hours of sleep. That keeps me happy. I used to wake up at 5 am after listening to a podcast with Jocko Willink who inspired me to get up and be productive earlier in the morning. I found that whilst I was getting a lot done in the morning before I went to training, I would be absolutely shattered towards the end of training and would feel pretty lazy in the afternoon. I quickly discovered after doing it for a while that it was becoming detrimental for me. I think experimentation is key. Now, I wake up at 6am and try to sleep by 10/11. I also - most days - have a 20-minute afternoon nap which has really helped me with the issues I used to have.
B: I am happy if I get over 7.5, anything over 8 is a bonus!
How important is diet? Do you eat healthily?
D: So during a week leading up to a game I am pretty strict. One night during the week I have a calorie-dense meal after a big two days of training. I absolutely love my sushi so that’s my mid-week go-to for some ‘me time’. A day before the game I am heavily carb-based to get the fuel I need. Usually this means a pasta for dinner. I love a good prawn pesto pasta. On a game day, I eat pretty light (before and after the game as I lose my appetite a bit.)
The day after the game is a bit of a free for all. I will go out for breakfast, have a roast and dessert… pretty much whatever I feel like.
I try to reign it in where I need to because I was quite overweight through my teenage years, and in a short period of time managed to strip that off, so I would say I am strict 80% of the time by making my meal prep so I am not tempted outside of those lenient days.
B: I am healthy, but I am not over the top because I don’t think you need to be. It is about consistency and balance for me. I enjoy treats when I feel I deserve them. I always add flavour to foods, so I enjoy what I eat. I think it isn’t great to have massive swings like eating "clean", boring and strict one week only to then go and binge for a week with alcohol and food and get trapped in a vicious cycle. If I enjoy a treat it is because I have earned it and I don’t eat it treats every single day, I keep it for when I have trained hard and know I am in a caloric deficit. Rachel (my wife) and I are pretty routine in the foods we eat because we enjoy them and they’re convenient, plus we get what we need in macros, but I don’t measure and am not obsessive.
What foods do you try and include in your diet daily?
D: The basics really. Quite similar to bodybuilder style meals I would say. I have 5 eggs and porridge for breakfast, snacks are things like corn cakes with tuna, hummus and avocado, banana, protein shakes etc. Then I usually have 2-3 meals of chicken/beef/salmon/prawn with salad (I always have greens, cucumber, parsley, lemon etc) and rice or sweet potatoes.
B: I am a bit more relaxed in terms of the specifics of my diet as I spoke about before and more just focus on making sure I am having enough and a balance.
D: I take protein powder, a pre-workout before games, Vitamin D, and Truth Origins Curcumin for recovery. I started using Truth about 4 months ago after an injury and have been using it ever since. With the nature of our work, I think it is crucial to take all preventative measures.
B: For me, it is protein powder, creatine, greens, fish oil capsules, Vitamin D, and a multivitamin for wellness. These help me feel my best and be as healthy as I can be.
What has been one thing that has revolutionised your regime?
D: Learning how to cook which has helped me make sure my nutrition is on point. I look at my week and plan the days I will prep my food, so I have meals handy each day with the nutrients I need.
B: For me, it is awareness of where I am at and what I need to do. If we have had a big Tuesday I will force myself to eat a bit more and chill out, go to the pool and get physio. The biggest thing is consistency. Reacting to that awareness throughout the season and not cutting corners. I used to cut corners and I would pay for it over the weekend. Now I do everything possible to eliminate this to help me prepare the best for the weekend. Similar to Dave with preparation, but with a lot of self- analysis into how I am feeling and what my body needs most.
Do you have any superstitious things you do before a game?
D: I am a touch on the OCD side. I like to have the house clean and all the chores done so I can switch off after a game or training. I always have to send a message to my family and missus pre-game.
B: I wouldn’t say superstitious, but I have a routine I always follow. I always do the same stretching, I always eat the same thing before the game even if it is an away game I will try to do the same and listen to the same music. I try and tick the same boxes. I guess it could be superstitious or maybe it is just preparation and knowing where I need to be mentally and physically.
How do you manage nerves before a game?
D: I am very process-driven. I make sure that I 100% know the detail before heading into the game and have ticked the boxes leading up to the game like repetitions of throwing, eating correctly and had some solid gym sessions. If I have gotten those things right, I know I have put all the work in possible and whatever happens, happens.
B: I don’t think you can to a certain degree. If you’re apprehensive or nervous it is just there, but a lot will come down to knowing you have prepared. If I tick every box I know I can, then I don’t care about anything I have leftover. There is nothing else I can do. If there are more nerves than usual it is because it a big game with a lot on the line, but I thrive on that because it is more excitement kind of nerves, and I usually find I perform better with this.
What do you love most about playing rugby as a job?
D: I get to play a game for a living. It is everything I love, cliché I know - but you get what you put in. The harder you work the more successful you become. There is only so far talent gets you. I enjoy the discipline of it and the process of each week and getting to play a competitive and confrontational game.
B: It has all changed over the years. I used to just love playing. The physical contest, being with a bunch of guys on field all with that same one goal- to win. When I got older I started loving the physical part more like pre-season and hitting goals. When I don’t have rugby like if I’m injured I feel a bit out of place. I love building up all week to then go in front of these crowds. It is one of the most natural things I have done all my life and it is awesome I have a platform where I get a chance to be paid to do it!
What is the hardest part of the job?
D:Probably the sacrifices like social outings, time with your loved ones etc. We don’t get weeks off over Christmas periods or if a friend has a wedding we often cannot make it. But this is the sacrifice we all make because we love the game.
B: Yep. Staying away from family because of our regiment and schedule. I have missed countless weddings, times with my nephews and their birthdays, Christmas with my family. New Zealand is a really long way away. My wife carries that burden too and that is the toughest part by far.
Before you get new contracts, that time must be stressful, how do you manage that?
D: It is. As you progress through your career and get older you start to feel more comfortable in the period. I think you need to have stuff outside of the game so if something does happen, you have managed your risk. I am learning about financial trading and wealth management for instance as that is something I am really interested in.
B: It is stressful. Some years things can go your way and you just know because you’re in a good position… but I have been on the other end before and borderline homeless. I got a contract pulled from under me, so I really think it’s important that you have always figure out a plan B, weigh up your options and just attack them head-on. That is why life after rugby is crucial for this situation. A contract is the most unreliable thing you can bank on really.
On mentality, how do you keep a strong mentality and resilience?
D: I like mindfulness in which I pay attention to on my walks with podcasts. I find sitting still hard, so I don’t really meditate. I have a great support system with my loved ones who are always there for me to bounce ideas off and chat to. I have a great group of mates in rugby too. We go for coffees most days and lunch on days off. We laugh a lot.
B: I have always been slightly cocky as I back myself in everything I do. I am sure of my ability on the field. I try and upskill things off the field like surfing and skating for body awareness and other skills and being active to help keep my mind and coordination challenged. I also feel that awareness of others has helped. Trying to understand how people think and register, especially if it’s different from how I do. I used to get frustrated when people didn’t do things the same way I did, but now I am interested in understanding the differences (like introverts vs extroverts for instance), and it has really benefited me understanding and managing these differences.
What do you do to let off steam? Any hobbies?
D: I love my dog as all my teammates would know. I take him out to the park whilst listening to a podcast, go get coffees, go to the movies or a night away in the country, and I don’t mind a casino night as I have always liked poker. I am lucky to have a fiancée that has her own interests so we can talk about stuff that is not rugby-related and go and try activities around London (as we are both from Sydney, Australia).
B: Surfing was my number 1 and when I lost that due to moving away from the coast, I started playing golf and learning photography and videography. Playing and creating are crucial to me to be stimulated in something other than rugby. It is quite common for a lot of rugby players to have these outside hobbies and I think that is one of the most important things we can do. I see this with Dave and his drive for learning finance for post-rugby and for me it is this importance that helps longevity in being able to do what we do.
Do you have any role models or inspirations?
D: My mum and dad are my main role models. My dad supported his family from a young age and is in the finance world. They gave me all the opportunities I needed to succeed.
B: Same- my parents. Dad’s work ethic, despite his back being so busted, he still works unbelievably hard even at his age. Mum is the CEO of a national company and does crazy marathons over the Arctic Circle and Great Wall of China, and competes in Ironman competitions.
Individual sportsmen - like tennis players Federer and Djokovic, and surfers like Mick Fanning. Unlike rugby, it is a lonely game and you only have yourself. Tiebreaker rounds in tennis where you can be in it for 6 hours… I couldn’t even imagine it. I have always also been inspired by Dave Chappelle in the way he speaks and his self-awareness.
What are your main goals short and long term rugby or others?
D: Short term for rugby would probably be playing consistently a high-level rugby for my team. Long term would be to play on the international stage.
B: I am at the back end of my career. I have found a club that has given me a lot and I have been a part of for a long time. I want to leave it better than when I came in. Leave with a positive legacy and we are in the position to do that. And post rugby I am preparing for the next step. My barber shop is my end game and some side games me and my wife Rachel are working on as we speak. My goal is to make the transition as smooth as possible and enjoying family time I have missed out on for the last 12 years. That is the main thing I am excited about.
This has been really great! Thank you so much for taking the time to give us an insight into your world. I'm sure all our readers will absolutely love reading about it.
We hope you enjoyed learning a bit more about the world of Rugby! Have any questions you want answered in a blog? Email us:
Shani Kaplan is a contributing writer for Truth Origins. She combines her knowledge gained from working within the fitness/wellness industry in Sydney and London for the last seven years as a Personal Trainer, and class instructor, with her addiction to research due to her BA in Business Marketing. Shani loves martial arts, resistance training, dance and yoga, nutrition, travel, design, photography, and art.
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