Optimal Performance as a Rugby Lock

Interview with Rugby Lock Keepa Mewett

Keepa Mewett is a 1.98m 113kg rugby lock who plays for the Bay of Plenty Steamers. He has been playing Mitre 10 Cup since 2012. He began his career with Bay of Plenty and then had a short stint with Manawatu when he wasn’t selected for the Bay. 

Manawatu turbos forwards coach Jeremy Cotter had been impressed with Mewett during his time in the Bay so called Keepa into the Turbos to add some size and power in the engine room. Keepa has since returned home to god’s country and the white sandy beaches of Mount Maunganui. 

We caught up with our good friend Keepa and asked him what it takes to be a top class lock, managing training and rugby life and his business.

What has been the most difficult part of the playing professionally?

I think the most difficult part of playing in the NPC is that you are really only a semi-professional player. Many of the players work a normal job in the off-season and try to fit all of the training in at the same time.

Early mornings and late nights can be challenging particularly for guys with young families and busy careers outside of rugby. For me once the season rolls around, I always feel like the hard work is worth it.

What does a typical training day look like outside of the season compared to a training day in season?

Outside of the regular season for the past few years we have been training early mornings (6am starts) before work for strength and conditioning. After work we develop field based skills and position specific stuff (8pm-9pm finishes).

In season it is much easier because we just train during a normal work day. It is much easier to maintain energy throughout the week and manage the workload. The best part about it is you see your family more.

A typical training day in-season is a meeting to start the day, then a medical clinic for any niggles, gym and conditioning and then extras. Sometimes there are game reviews or game preview meetings where we look at strategy and video. After lunch we head out for team training for the afternoon. That will be the end of the day unless you have some promotional work, community event or a school visit.

Benchmarks for rugby locks to achieve

Example: Current player targets for semi-professional/professional Lock.

2016 Season Average

Body Weight – 110kg
Power Clean – 115kg
Squat – 140kg
Bench Press – 120kg
Weighted Pull Up – Body weight plus 40kg
YoYo – 18

2017 Targets

Body Weight – 113kg
Power Clean – 120kg
Squat – 155kg
Bench Press – 135kg
Weighted Pull Up – Body weight plus 50kg
YoYo 19

What’s something people don’t know about becoming a pro player?

Probably the amount of work that goes in behind the scenes. Some people are uber-talented and make a career pretty easily. Generally to make it to the next level (Super Rugby or the equivalent) requires A LOT of hard work. Strength and conditioning of course, analysis of your own and other people’s games, working on specific skills to your position, working on deficiencies that you have, working on mindset, having the right nutrition and consistently performing weekly, monthly and yearly.

The NPC is not a rugby competition to make huge amounts of money but it does have a lot of history and I feel proud to represent my province every year. The competition is the backbone of New Zealand rugby but it’s also about trying to take the next step to a full-time professional role at home or abroad. We all have to make sacrifices around our families.

I probably could have got a better paying job somewhere in Australia or Auckland but I love rugby and need to take this opportunity to play while my body still allows it. My wife Sarah has always been supportive throughout my career and very patient with all the ups and downs. She is, however, excited about me wrapping it up in the next couple of years!

What are your strengths?

Set piece is something I have taken a bit of pride in over the last couple of seasons. I always work hard during training and put in the extras when it comes to lineouts and scrums. I am getting a bit older and have more experience now so I want to take on that ‘line-out leader’ type of role. Scrummaging is a funny kind of thing. So much of the work is done up front by the hooker and props but I do enjoy it. 

I like the simplicity of the scrum as it is just one bunch of guys trying to push another group backwards. Another test of physical dominance in the game. I enjoy working together to achieve a common goal as that is what Rugby is all about.

What are your weaknesses and what are you working on?

I have been working recently on trying to bring a bit more impact on defense. Working on my carrying as it’s a fun part of the game. I try to improve everyday, it’s about getting in a few repetitions of each skill daily – whether it be ball skills, tackle technique, clean out technique or taking the ball into contact. If you want your body to respond to certain situations naturally in a game, you need to drill those situations at training. When it comes to defense, I do work on tackle technique but defense is also a mental thing. You have to want to smash people to be effective!

What advice would you give to aspiring rugby locks?

Learn how to hit rucks, and hit heaps of them. I can’t put a number on what is good to be honest as each game is different. I hit around 20+ rucks on average per game. It was a bit different this year with the new rules though. For the old rules, the best technique is to start low and clean out with your head up. 

Some people use the cue ‘like a plane taking off’ and clean past the ball. I used to set number targets for myself for ruck attendance, carries and tackles but it’s hard to know what type of game will unfold. Sometimes you will make 8 tackles and it’s a lot in that game. Sometimes you will make 15 and you are still not a standout. 

The key to loose forward play is work rate and good decision making so you are the most effective you can be on the field. The stats then take care of themselves. You can make a long career out of just hitting rucks and taking care of set piece.

Looking ahead what will the Lions face when they play the Maori All Blacks in Rotorua?

Firstly, a big crowd of passionate people. The Maori obviously love playing in Rotorua too. I remember watching them beat the Irish there in 2010. I think Maori people are naturally quite athletic and aggressive which are great qualities in a rugby player. That is obviously a generalization but something that I have found in my career anyway. Rotorua International Stadium has a world class pitch and has so much history for the Maori people. It will be a very physical battle with a lot of energy and flare!

What does it mean to be Maori and how would you feel if you were selected to play against the Lions?

Playing for the Maori would mean a lot to me. I was born in Australia but both of my parents are Maori. (Whakatohea & Te Rarawa). I think it’s important to know your tribe because it’s where you are from and it’s your history. Maori people are big on whakapapa or genealogy. I always loved that I had that background. I moved to NZ to attend boarding school when I was young because I wanted to experience New Zealand and come back to my roots. 

It has always been a goal of mine but I have not yet had the opportunity to wear the Maori All Blacks jersey. If I was selected to play for them I would be very proud. I love the way they play and I have a lot of mates that play or have played for them over the last few years. The All Black Maori’s looks like an awesome environment and good group to be involved with.

What do you do outside of Rugby?

I own a gym with a few mates of mine. One side of the gym is for young athlete development and the other side is a holistic approach to fitness and health. I enjoy both sides and have always been into the strength and conditioning side of rugby, so I guess this is a bit of a natural progression for me. I have a degree in finance but working in that sector never really appealed to me after university when I started playing a bit more rugby. Exercise science would have been chosen instead of finance, had I have done it again. I thought finance would lead me to money. However, I got caught up in chasing a rugby ball around with my mates.

What exercises do you recommend for rugby players?

The number one exercise in the gym that all rugby players should master is the squat. It translates best to the field in terms of power, speed, overall strength and core strength. Not many people like it because they get sore, or because it’s very taxing but it should be done a lot more often than it is in the rugby player’s program. After that, there is a whole lot of exercises that players would benefit from. From the body weight pull up, to the farmer’s carry, to the basic plank, to the more advanced movements such as the snatch. Everyone has different needs and body types but all of the above are beneficial movements for the rugby player.

Is this what you do a Raw Fitness?

We teach a holistic approach at RAW Fitness. Hoslistic means being able to get the human body to perform the way we are entitled to. Being able to move naturally (important for not just Rugby), move well and move freely without pain. We teach people to mobilize their body first. Getting into the bottom of a squat is key for ankle, knee, hip and lower back health. The goblet squat is a great way to do that. Take a kettlebell high up on your chest and sit your hips between your ankles. As low as you can. *Then learn the skill of a movement and progress with adding load and intensity. There is also a nutrition side to our training and a mindset of being better than yesterday.

Thank you very much Keepa!

Key exercises, traits and skills to master the lock position.

Height

Are you big enough? If not you may want to consider changing your position, improving other aspects or your game, playing multiple positions or growing.

Strength & Power

Strength is important in Rugby as we have to perform repeated ruck work, scrums and tackling. However, this needs to be mobile strength. Coaches are looking for a lock that can offer more around the field. Core strength is also very important for a lock. A good exercise for a lock is the torture twist. 5 sets of 3-5 reps with a tempo of 1 second twist hold for 3 seconds 1 second twist to the other side.

Understanding lineout calls and set ups

Understanding the laws and rules around the lineout will help you understand how you can be more effective. A Rugby lock needs to have clarity when it comes to your teams’ set ups. Clarity on the numbers and opportunities to deliver good set piece ball to the backs. This will always make you stand out on the field. A good tip is to work closely with your lifters so they understand your technique and style.

Excellent vertical jump

You need to have an excellent vertical jump. Combined with speed off the ground. These are fundamental skills needed to master to be a good lineout jumper. Speed can be improved using plyometrics exercises. A good exercise for rugby locks to incorporate into their training is the barbell squat superset with the one foot leg lower off a box into a two foot jump.

Aerial Skills

Receiving kicks off, lineouts, and catching. Practice catching moving into position and catching with two hands above your head. Use a competent kicker to help you here. Getting the kicker to repeat kicks above your head in a 10m radius. Get used to moving into the line of the ball, get your hands up and then catch the ball. A good tip here is to always keep your eyes and hands in line as you follow the path of the ball.

AUTHOR

Nick McCashin

Nick McCashin

Nick McCashin is a former Bay of Plenty representative who has played professionally in England, France and Spain. Nick is currently playing and coaching in Scotland where he is writing and developing content to help players excel on and off the field.

HAVE YOUR SAY...