The march of progress

by staff

The 2013 British & Irish Lions will have four coaches, two analysts, a small army of medics and physiotherapists and a media team of three. The players will train and play wearing GPS technology and will want for nothing.

Contrast that to the first Lions tour in 1888 when the tourists lost their two training balls over the side of the SS Kaikoura that took them to New Zealand and had no ball to play with for the best part of a month.

Planning for a modern day, professional Lions tour is a huge exercise. Failing to plan is planning to fail, so they say, which is why director of operations Guy Richardson has spent the best part of two-and-a-half years plotting every last detail of the 2013 tour.

“It is amazing just how much technology has advanced since the 2009 Lions tour and there will be innovations in Australia that will give the players and coaches even better support systems as they try to become the first Lions side to win a Test series since 1997,” said Richardson.

“We’ve just spent two weeks in Australia and Hong Kong checking out every hotel, training venue and match venue and I think we’ve done all we can now to ensure the smooth running of what is a massive operation.”

When you have to ensure that 20 tons of luggage reaches the right destination at the right time over a six-week period you need to go into the minutest of detail to guarantee there are no slip ups. Having managed the process so successfully in South Africa four years ago, Richardson and his team are ready for an even tougher job this summer.

The Lions will be training in Ireland before they leave, playing a game in Hong Kong and then launching their nine-match trek around Australia in Perth. Other games then come in Melbourne, Sydney, Brisbane and Newcastle.

In 1888, Robert Seddon’s side travelled by boat, train and horse and carriage around New Zealand and Australia, sometimes taking two days to move from one venue to the next. The distances they covered, and the number of games played, far outweigh what the 2013 tourists will experience on the 125th anniversary tour, but back then it was just 22 players, two managers and a suitcase each.

“We have five fleets of Land Rovers, with six vehicles in each fleet, strategically placed in Australia, Hong Kong and Ireland. We have five sets of training kit and equipment, which heads out by freight in March to similar destinations and we have chartered our own plane to travel from Perth to Brisbane,” added Richardson.

“We can manage to get all our kit into a 767 for that flight, but the rest of it will be driven from destination to destination. The players will merely take an overnight bag with them when we fly, with the rest of the luggage arriving ahead of them by road so that it is ready for them when they arrive.

“We’ve been working very closely with sponsors like Land Rover and Rhino to ensure our logistics are spot on and other sponsors have been helping in other areas. The players will be using GPS technology when they are playing and training and the whole statistical analysis surrounding the game has moved forward dramatically since 2009.

“The GPS systems track how far players have run, what impact they are taking and all sorts of other facts and figures that are then fed into the strength and conditioning coaches and other coaches. Opta are also providing statistical systems for the analysts to use that will break down every facet of a player’s performance.

“Microsoft are also working with us in this area and will be providing every player with a surface to use on tour. This will allow them to analyse their own performances, using video clips from training and matches, and to monitor their GPS data.”

Rugby is in the age of high technology and the 2013 Lions should be more than up to speed with every innovation in the professional game. I wonder what Seddon and his players would have made of it all.