Interview | Max Lahiff
Human giant Max Lahiff has enjoyed a fantastic career in professional rugby; coming through the London Irish Academy, Max made his debut at 19, and hasn't looked back. After 4 successful years with Irish, Max moved down under to play Super Rugby in Australia with Hawke's Bay, and in the ITM Cup in New Zealand with the Rebels (becoming only one of a handful of English players to make the switch to the Southern Hemisphere).
In 2015 Max moved back to the UK to play for Bath, where he scored on his debut (check out this incredible highlight reel from his time at Bath so far... Maro Itoje getting shunted back 5 meters isn't something you see everyday)
While we had Max with us in the kitchen, we took the opportunity to quiz him a little on his career so far...
So Max, take me back to what it felt like making the senior team at London Irish at 19? Were you in awe of everyone, or were you like 'I deserve to be here, I'm gonna smash everyone'?
"Yeah I was definitely in awe, I am one of those guys who has quite a lot of anxiety about that kind of thing, especially when I was younger. I'd built it up in my head a lot, just because I was a massive rugby fan. It wasn't really so much that I was a rugby player, I was definitely a rugby fan first... so playing amongst all these guys that I'd grown up watching was an amazing experience".
You occupy a privileged position in English rugby, in that you are one of the few players - particularly one of the few English players - to have ever gone from the Northern hemisphere to the Southern hemisphere. You wrote (because I read your blog)... you wrote that the first thing you noticed when you arrived was the differing attitudes of the younger players who were desperate to break into the senior side down there... which is different to how it was here. Do you think that has changed now, do you see the academy guys coming through absolutely chomping at the the bit, trying to get in the senior side?
"Yeah I think it's changed a lot now, but I still feel theres a little bit of this sense of entitlement... a little bit. I think because there are so many younger guys in the England squad now, that there is a realistic chance for [these] guys to make it into the team, they come in & hit the ground running as academy boys. I think the professionalism has [improved the situation in England], but I still feel there's a little bit of that... like... it's just a harder, more exacting environment in New Zealand to make it, in my opinion.
[In New Zealand] The pathway's not as clear, that's the thing. The fact you have an academy here, just makes it easier for guys to make it, that's the whole point of an academy".
Still talking about your blog, the training & pre-season work you mentioned was hugely different, they did a lot more fitness work [in Australia and New Zealand]. I know we spoke about this earlier (during filming); has the Northern hemisphere caught up with Super Rugby, in terms of it being about fitness rather than brute strength?
"Yeah, it's definitely caught up so much, you can see it in the results around the world as well. Ireland beating the All Blacks, England going to Australia and smashing that Grand Slam tour. It's definitely changed how the Premiership is evolving... it's very much more attacking rugby, the ball is in play a lot longer..."
Do you think that's the Premiership trying to catch up with the Southern hemisphere or do you think the influx of Southern Hemisphere managers is causing it more?
"Theres a bit of that, but I also think it's just as the sports become more professional, more athletic... it allows the game to be played that way. Fitter, faster athletes mean more guys running around and more space."
You joined Bath after your time in Super Rugby and scored on your debut, how did it feel to pull that off?
"[laughing] Yeah, I don't score often, so I was shocked as much as anyone, also it was my first game in about 6 months.. so I'd had this huge layoff... I was blowin'... I just landed on the try line like "phew!"... real lucky!"
Bath had a pretty miserable season by their own high standards, how do you as an individual and as a team bounce back from defeats... particularly where you're playing in games where you probably should have won? How do you bounce back the following week without letting it affect you?
"It's difficult... I suppose, the best way I can sort of say the philosophy of any person who is trying to increase their success or trying to get better, is to just try & live in the moment the whole time. If you're dwelling too much on the past, or trying to learn too much from the past, or looking too far ahead, you're forgetting what's making you better. You're trying to be there and exact everything you can out of the moment; and as long as you keep doing that, you'll take care of the future.
But I know what you mean, when you're going up against team like Bristol and you lose away, these things come back to bite you on the arse. I think as a team, we we're just a bit, like.. too up & down, I think our small squad size didn't help either; lot of key guys being injured, led to a lot of our key players at that time of the season being really fatigued, especially mentally. Because usually you'll be cycled a bit, be a bit more fresh... but I think there are a lot of factors... I think we're gonna learn from those, and go on and persevere".
So when you come back from an injury, like you have with your hamstring at the moment, how do you make sure you pick-up where you left off... how do you hit the ground running?
"You do everything you can... so I've got a bad right hamstring, so I'll just smash my left leg, lower-body weights, do as much as I can in rehab, go through all the points that the physio's tell me to do, and the specialists, and usually it takes care of itself... you just try & keep on top of everything, anything you can control... you can control".
You've been a professional rugby player now for what is fast approaching a decade, how different is the diet and nutrition from when you were an academy player, to now; how much more important is it?
"So when I was an academy player, because of how I ate... I didn't really look into it too much, I ate everything. So whatever I wanted to eat, I'd eat; I was on, literally, the see-food diet; you see food, you eat it; and it was fine because I was trying to get bigger. As I got older I realised it actually makes things worse if you eat like that. I suffer from asthma, and if I eat like that it makes my asthma worse... same if I over-do dairy or that kind of thing. And it's definitely a thing, if you eat clean, you'll play clean, you'll perform cleaner, you'll think cleaner; you'll just feel a lot better and you bounceback-ability is a lot better.
I wouldn't say it changes my body composition so much, but, like if I eat too clean I'll lose weight. So I've got to eat a lot of simple sugars sometimes to pump it back up. It's just an experience thing, you've just got to know your own body, I don't think there is one be-all & end-all formula that works for every athlete, because every athlete is different".
So now that players in all positions are bigger, and someone like yourself who, according to the Bath RFC website is 18 stone; when you're bashing into guys that are 17, 18, 19 stone, between 6 and 10 times minimum in a game, how does your body recover from that over the week; you've basically done a round of boxing, and you're doing that every seven days, for 8 months...
"Yeah it's terrible game, it's so bad for you, I've learnt that. Because a fighter will only fight, say... I mean the guy is trying to kill him, which is different, but he fights three times a year, whereas we're basically running at guys for 80 minutes, doing that.
Sleep. Is. The. King. Sleep and eat.. eating well is the king of that. Usually I've got 48 hours to bounce back before I start training again, for the next team".
So if you play on a Saturday, you won't be in training again until Tuesday/Wednesday?
"No, I probably won't have to do much on Monday, but I might have to do something. But yeah, you've got about 48-hours-ish. But my first port-of-call would be sleep, anything that helps me sleep, I get into that; eating, eating really well, eating a lot, that's key. Stretching, ice baths, saunas pretty key - I love that stuff; really, really good for all sorts of DOMS, really solves that stuff.
I've got a lot into my R.O.M - Range of Movement - if you can move strongly and in a larger range, then your body is less likely to break-down. So I've started recently, maybe the last couple of seasons, I've really looked into Pilates & Yoga, and stretching at home. Epsom Salt baths are great, they work. They do work.
Compression garments, like, medical grade stuff... not lycra, but proper medical grade compression [clothing] is useful as well. And if you exhaust all the resources that you can, then you'll feel better... even if it is psychosomatic, that's enough. A lot of guys don't read into it enough, but it works for me, therefore it works".
You do something, that so many people will only ever dream about; what is it like running out at the Rec, or The Stoop or Franklin Gardens?
"Yeah mate, I love it. It's a strange culture, rugby.... especially English rugby, there's this cult, tribe-like atmosphere. It's weird, because you go to these places once a season, and you can count on one hand how many times you've been there, or how many times you've won, or how many times you've lost... you recognise the same supporters, it can be very familiar and awesome experience. I love every second of it".
Do you recognise the same Bath supporters at each game?
"Yeah, you're always familiar with the same fans, and it's awesome - it's very flattering and you're honoured to be a part of it all. Going to the big places like Franklin Gardens or Welford Road, I love going there, love trying to win... it makes you compete harder, it's very much a part of what makes rugby so great, and why I love playing it".