Farah Palmer Cup: Otago fitness-fanatic flankers fizzing for rugby resumption

While many of their Farah Palmer Cup contemporaries enjoyed a lighter load during lockdown, Otago Spirit duo Leah Miles and Grace Carroll were instead racking up the extra kilometres.

As the majority of students on Dunedin’s famed Castle St lay snoring under blankets on shivery winter mornings, these two extra-disciplined openside flankers, would rise, without fail, to a 6am alarm on this month-long rugby hiatus.

Carroll had made the swift move-in to Miles’ flat so the good mates could ‘bubble-up’ and keep each other on track with their training. And they sure did not disappoint.

Grace Carroll ‘bubbled-up’ with team-mate Leah Miles so they could keep each other motivated for rugby.

Joe Allison/Getty Images

Grace Carroll ‘bubbled-up’ with team-mate Leah Miles so they could keep each other motivated for rugby.

Bright and early, the two 19-year-olds would get running (or the odd walk), making their way along the Otago Harbour, and clock up anywhere between 6km and 12km on this self-motivated schedule.

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“Maybe we pushed it a bit hard sometimes,” Miles quipped to Stuff, having hard to nurse a tender muscle in the ankle so she was right for Saturday’s resumption of the national women’s competition.

“Neither of us are really runners.

“It was just kind of an escape, it got the body moving and it felt good, and it was a controllable kind of thing.

“We wanted to kind of get up and get ready for lectures [Miles studying psychology and Carroll sport and exercise science], otherwise it’d be harder to get them done.”

But that was just to start the day, though.

Carroll, who is in her first season with Otago and has been coming off the bench for Miles, who is in her second, also had running blocks – including ‘broken broncos’ and other sprint work – from the team’s strength and conditioning trainer, Bennett Jones, to get through, along with skills work.

However, even that wasn’t enough for these fitness fanatics, who also managed to procure some weights and therefore rock into some lifting work at night to at least go some way to satisfying their craving for the gym tin.

And, having each other as bubble buddies also made for the perfect tackle-practice scenarios – something many other team-mates didn’t have the luxury of.

“We have this return to play plan and a lot of it at the start was just like falling on your arms and shoulders, trying to get used to the tackle,” Miles said.

“So we warmed up with that, and then basically we just ran at each other and chop-tackled each other, and kind of just did it over and over.

Otago Spirit coach Scott Manson got his players together on Zoom for fun activities such as a scavenger hunt.

Joe Allison/Getty Images

Otago Spirit coach Scott Manson got his players together on Zoom for fun activities such as a scavenger hunt.

“My flatmate, she goes to Grace: ‘I’m so glad you’re here, because if you weren’t, I would have been the tackle dummy’.”

Miles said getting some contact training in “lit the fire again” for this weekend, with the lockdown having hit with two regular season games remaining – the first of which now comes on Saturday against the Bay of Plenty Volcanix in Mt Maunganui.

“It was quite difficult because we were kind of at our peak, training, and getting really excited for the Bay of Plenty game because there was quite a lot at stake for it,” she said of what will be a crunch relegation battle.

“So we just had to take a step back from all that and focus on ourselves in lockdown.

“But it was better that I had Grace. We had each other, and we were able to keep in the rugby mindset as well, while going about our day with our bubble.”

While the team connected a few times on Zoom, it was less footy-related than it was sociable gatherings, including the likes of a scavenger hunt set by coach Scott Manson, where players were challenged to find various items around the house and bring them back to their screens the quickest.

Then last week came the chance to finally get back together in-person at level 2, only for Miles to have to ease up a little on that ankle. All that running.

“We love training,” she said. “So it’s hard slipping back the workload, but it’s for the greater good for the game this weekend.”

Leah Miles, centre, and Otago face a must-win game against Bay of Plenty in Mt Maunganui on Saturday.

Joe Allison/Getty Images

Leah Miles, centre, and Otago face a must-win game against Bay of Plenty in Mt Maunganui on Saturday.

While used to early rises, Miles and Carroll were up even earlier on Friday, as part of the contingent on the 6.05am flight to Tauranga – one of five separate flights north among a hugely disrupted travel schedule for the team, which also saw the hosts accommodate in pushing kickoff back from 12.05pm to 2.35pm.

It’s a huge game, this. Both teams are winless through four outings this season, the Spirit with one bonus point to Bay of Plenty’s none, but this clash will virtually decide who stays in the premiership next year and who drops to the championship.

“It is a must-win, because we want to stay up, obviously that’s the goal at the moment,” Miles said.

“So we’re taking it pretty seriously, while not having the nerves of finals football.”

AT A GLANCE

Farah Palmer Cup, Rd 6

Bay of Plenty Volcanix v Otago Spirit

Blake Park, Mt Maunganui

Saturday, 2.35pm

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