Former Wales international Jonathan Thomas says that the key for the tourists to overcoming the effects of altitude is having the right mindset.
Thomas said it is crucial that players push through the feeling of fatigue and breathlessness that commonly afflict those not accustomed to playing at altitude.
The key to altitude
Wales play their first Test against the Springboks at Loftus Versfeld with the famous ground sitting 1350 metres above sea-level.
The United Rugby Championship has exposed some of the Welsh group to the impact of playing on the highveld but those experiences were far from pleasant.
With their dominant pack setting the tone, the Lions finished the inaugural season of the URC on a high note by beating the Dragons. Photo: SA Rugby website
Touring teams in the URC engaged in stalling tactics to slow the game down with a break in play inevitably witnessing at least one player calling for the physio.
Thomas believes the key is not necessarily to stall but to push through the worst effects which usually hit around the 20 minute mark in the first half.
“The hardest part is the start of the game and the first 20 minutes. Your mouth feels incredibly dry. I was an asthmatic as a kid, where you get that tight chest. I sort of grew out of that. But that’s the only way I can describe it. It’s that kind of feeling where you get a really, really dry mouth and this sort of tight chest where you almost feel like you can’t get enough air in,” Thomas said.
“Then, as you go through the game, your body seems to adapt. I think a lot of it is mindset. It’s like anything. It will be tough, but it’s the start that’s the hardest part, the first 20 minutes.”
Wales must front up
Thomas said Wales cannot afford to let the Springboks get on top early or they will be fighting an uphill battle.
“Loftus is one of the most intimidating venues I played at,” he added. “If the ‘Boks start well there and get momentum, then the crowd really feed off that positive energy and it becomes very difficult to break that. The Wales leadership group and the coaches need to speak about that at length and prepare themselves for it. The first 20 is key.
“So the altitude and the crowd will be big factors. It will need a big physical defensive effort in the first 20 or 30 minutes, but if they can do that they have got every chance of doing well.
“The game is always about physicality against those guys and no more so than at altitude and at Loftus. But it’s a really great experience as well at one of best venues in world rugby to play at.
“You can’t be fearing what’s coming. You’ve got to be relishing the opportunity of playing against the best in the world. A lot of it is about mindset and trusting your fitness levels and physicality.”