Highlanders turn to jiu jitsu training to get fighting edge

Source: 1News

The Highlanders are hoping a unique approach to their preseason training could give them a fighting edge in this year’s Super Rugby competition.

The southern franchise have turned once again to Ryan Henry, a jiu jitsu expert, to teach players the Brazilian martial art in the hopes some skills will translate to rugby union.

“What they're learning is how to control their bodies,” Henry told 1News.

“Speed off the ground, agility - and just a real good contact for preseason.”

It’s not a new concept, with Henry having worked with the Highlanders for more than a decade after pioneering the idea. More recent results of his work have got players and staff buzzing.

In 2019, current Highlanders coach Tony Brown and Jamie Joseph tapped into Henry’s expertise to help Japan at the Rugby World Cup, with the Brave Blossoms going on to reach the quarter-finals of the tournament for the first time after wins over Ireland and Scotland.

“We were working on a lot of speed off the ground,” Henry recalled.

“A lot of move the ball faster while their other forwards were still getting up - we'd already be a second in front of them.”

Brown said he hopes to get the same advantages in the deep south.

“What Ryan teaches is around understanding your body and being able to be really good in difficult positions,” coach Tony Brown told 1News.

“I guess that's the breakdown and that's rugby in general.”

Henry said more and more teams are buying into the jiu jitsu mindset with the theory being if you’re on the ground, you’re out of the game.

“I’m starting to see it more and more,” he said.

“Every team is different… but we’re just trying to show them where their bodies can be in a better position all the team so they’re not just relying on their strength to get someone off them.”

The Highlanders open their season against the Chiefs in Hamilton on February 19.