England international Nick Easter on how UFC training gave his rugby added punch
Since turning professional just over two decades ago, rugby union has undergone some radical changes at the highest level.
Gone are the days of doctors and lawyers meeting up in their spare time to give it their best shot. Now a sophisticated team of nutritionists work with players and coaches to get the most out of their players. One man who has seen that change more than most playing today is Nick Easter.
The Harlequins number eight has been with the west London club since 2004. During his long career, he has often looked outside of his own sport for inspiration to improve his game.
Easter, speaking at the launch of EA SPORTS UFC 2, told us that he has been utilising UFC-style training in order to prolong his career and give himself the upper hand over his opponents.
The life of a professional athlete can be rather dull at times, with the repetition they face in training every day, so it's no wonder that they try to shake things up a bit by exploring new sports.
Easter explains how breaking the monotony of pre-season training is vital for success: "It helps motivate you, especially when you're doing pre-season training where it's a lot of conditioning stuff, a lot of strength, a lot of anaerobic, fitness-based stuff.
"When you throw in alternative training like MMA, it provides stimulus for someone as cynical as me who has done a lot of the other stuff like weights and running stuff that you have to do anyway as a necessary evil. So it's quite nice when something like [UFC training] comes along."
This, Easter says, is a big reason why he has been able to continue performing at a high level into his late thirties: "Every single pre-season gets harder and harder as you get older. But you've got to dig in."
With the focus on core strength in both sports, it's easy to see how a rugby player might transfer some skills from mixed martial arts onto the rugby pitch, with physical confrontations taking place constantly.
Easter likens the tackle area to the wrestling side of a UFC fight, while the need to rise quickly after a tackle has obvious parallels with the octagon.
"It's probably as close as another sport's conditioning as you will get to rugby," he explains.
"We do a lot of wrestling. It's all about heavy guys getting off the floor, getting strong positions and holding strong positions. Clearly, nowadays with the choke tackle - where you're basically trying to hold guys up - that's very much a wrestling technique."
Speaking to Easter, it's clear the respect with which he holds UFC athletes, describing them as "the most highly conditioned athletes around".
"Rugby's quite tough because you'll go through a six-week period where you're not doing any contact so you can get to a certain fitness level but as soon as you start taking the knocks during training and week-on-week, it's very, very hard from that sort of conditioning element to get back to what you were.
"It's all about maintaining. Whereas those guys, they're training for a fight. Yeah they're sparring but a fight's a fight, obviously. It's very full-on. Any sort of training I've ever done - the down and ups bit, on the ropes, whether it be on the punch pads or the wrestling - I'd go as far as to say they're probably the most highly-conditioned athletes around."
But it's not just conditioning side Easter enjoys, but also how the change of pace sometimes provides you with one of the most memorable moments of your career.
"We used to have a bit of fun at the end [of training]. We used to have a king of the ring tournament. You'd either either pin them for three seconds or throw them out of the ring and then someone else would come in to play the winner. Clearly, you're absolutely knackered so if you won two in a row, you did bloody well. That was always quite good fun.
"I remember once Manu Tuilagi, it was his first time with the England squad and showed what a powerful beast he was because Mike Tindall - who is a big back himself and a tough guy - was launched out of the ring at a rate of knots through the air, which took everyone by surprise."
Nick Easter took on the Finish the Fight Challenge to mark the launch of EA SPORTS UFC 2. EA SPORTS UFC 2 is out now on PlayStation 4 and Xbox One.