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'That sign is designed to get in your head'

SPOTLIGHT: Glasgow Warriors will be “one of the fittest teams to go to Loftus Versfeld”.

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That is the view of former Scotland hooker Fraser Brown.

The Warriors are in Pretoria as the current United Rugby Championship pacesetters and Saturday’s match against the fourth-placed Bulls is set to have a significant impact on the standings.

As with any trip to the Highveld, altitude has become a topic of discussion again.

Talking from experience, Brown believes the Scottish players will be gasping for air.

“I won my first Scotland cap at Loftus Versfeld, against Italy in a quadrangular tournament in 2013,” Brown wrote in his column for The Scotsman.

“It was eight of the most tiring minutes of my career. Perhaps it was the unexpectedness of being there, the nerves with it being my first cap, or the precarious state of the game when I entered the pitch.

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“Or perhaps it was the altitude.”

He added: “There’s a famous sign at Loftus Versfeld as you walk out on the pitch which says ‘Altitude. 1350m. It matters.’ And it does but that doesn’t mean to say it’s not possible to win there.

“There are two schools of thought on this. There’s the one that tries to tell you it doesn’t matter, and that if you fly in and fly out it doesn’t have that much of a physiological effect on your body.

“Perhaps, but the mind can be far more powerful than your body and when you’re gasping for air during the warm-up you tend to hear a little voice in your brain telling you, ‘I’m at bloody altitude, it matters!’

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“That sign is designed to get in your head and I love that. You are meant to use every single tool in your arsenal so what’s the point in having a home ground at altitude and not using it to gain some sort of advantage?

“The other theory accepts that the altitude will affect you, even when you are jogging around the pitch in the warm-up. But if you can accept and understand that and get over that hurdle and realise there will be times in the game when you can hardly speak, you will recover. If you can get over the mental shock, you can get through it and develop resilience.

“When you go there for the first time it can hit you really hard, and it’s during the warm-up you first experience it because you end up gasping for air. You do get a chance to recover during the game but there will also be long periods of play where you’ll be battling to breathe.”

Despite all the challenges associated with playing at altitude, Brown believes the Warriors are built differently.

“The one thing I would say about Franco Smith’s Glasgow is that they are an incredibly fit team, aerobically and in terms of contact conditioning,” said Brown.

“That’s down to Franco, Cillian Reardon, the club’s head of athletic performance, and the players.

“They need to be super fit for the type of rugby they want to play. Franco famously says that you play for 90 minutes, not 80.

“They will be one of the fittest teams to go to Loftus Versfeld. They are well equipped physiologically so a lot of it will come down to mental preparation and the ability to understand that you will feel fatigued and short of breath at times.

“It’s a different experience but you do recover. It will also be hot in Pretoria on Saturday because it’s an afternoon kick-off.

“Munster last month became the first European club team to ever win a game at Loftus so that shows you what a difficult place it is to go. But it can be done and they’ve given Glasgow a very clear and obvious blueprint.”

Source: The Scotsman

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