2nd Chance Charlie: Gruelling training session hints at physical toll on pro rugby stars

Three's 2nd Chance Charlie has kicked off another season - thanks to 2degrees - and in preparation, six media personalities headed out to Ponsonby Rugby Club to complete a professional training session. 

Call us the No-Chance Charlies.

No sign of show host and All Blacks legend Stephen Donald - maybe he was whitebait fishing - but trainer (and Game of Thrones actor) Joe Naufahu was waiting to put us through our paces. 

Five of the six hadn't really played rugby before, so we were in for the shock of our lives.

Before the session, I didn't know what to expect and was filled with trepidation. My camera crew’s clear instructions were for shots of me puking, so I felt like a deer in the headlights. 

My own rugby experience was close to zero, with just the odd lunchtime touch rugby game or bullrush at high school and primary school the only lines on my rugby resume. 

One area I thought I could hold my own was fitness. At high school, I completed a half marathon and a triathlon, while training about 10 hours a week to attain a US college tennis scholarship. 

I completed my fair share of gruelling sessions over there, so I felt confident in my fitness. But I’m first to admit, a year after graduating, my aerobic fitness is not where it should be and I struggled. 

The day started with a screening of the 2nd Chance Charlie pilot. The one thing that stood out to me was the dreaded 'Bronco' fitness test, which consists of running 20 metres out and back, 40 metres out and back, and finally 60 metres out and back - and repeat five times. 

For Super Rugby players, the standard is under six minutes, with Beauden Barrett holding the New Zealand rugby record at 4m 12s, so it's basically a sprint the entire 1.2km. 

William Hewett throws a pass during 2nd Chance Charlie training
William Hewett throws a pass during 2nd Chance Charlie training. Photo credit: Newshub

With the first episode out of the way, we headed out onto the Western Springs fields to start our session. 

After a 'light' warm-up that already had me puffing - not a good sign for the rest of the session - we started with the dreaded Bronco. 

Joe took it easy on us. We did three laps, rather than the full five, but that still provided a glimpse of what professional players go through. 

After three laps of the Bronco, I was completely out of breath and my legs were already heavy. This wasn't a good sign, with still more than an hour left in the session. 

Once we all recovered, we moved to passing drills, which didn't go well. I was fine passing right to left - my stronger side - but passes began spraying all over the show with my non-existent left-to-right pass.

The part of the session I looked forward to - but still made me nervous - was tackling drills. Teamed up with a partner, we ran at tackle bags to learn the technique. 

I was quietly surprised that I wasn't terrible and picked it up pretty quickly, but still wouldn't back myself, even against the smallest players like Damian McKenze or Brad Weber, who would bulldoze over me. 

To finish the session, we played touch. I've seen Super Rugby players use touch as a warm-up drill and they seem to have no issues finding the try-line, but it's fair to say we were completely out of whack. 

There were a lot of misreads in defence and balls going to ground, which would have Sir Graham Henry pulling his hair out, if he had any. I did finish with a late 'well-taken' try to at least walk away with my pride still intact. 

I left the training session with a new found respect for professional rugby players, even in our short hour-and-a-half, low-intensity training. 

I know they work incredibly hard to reach that level, but getting a better understanding of the toll they put their bodies through week in week out was inspiring. 

Some will say that's what they get paid a lot of money for and all jobs are hard, but I definitely don't walk away from work battered, bruised and sore the next day - and that would be a good day for these players. 

They have the potential to suffer long-lasting injuries from playing our nation's favourite sport and after my training session, my body is begging for mercy. 

I now fully understand the pain they go through and give full credit to professional athletes in every sport who put their bodies on the line week in, week out for our entertainment. 

It's definitely not as easy as it looks. 

2nd Chance Charlie screens at 9:30pm Thursday, repeated 5:30pm Sunday, on Three, thanks to 2degrees