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British & Irish Lions

Murray vows to make the most of Lions captaincy experience

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Photo by ANDY BUCHANAN/AFP via Getty Images

The Ireland scrum-half was chosen by Warren Gatland to take over the role from Alun Wyn Jones after the Wales and Lions legend was ruled out of the Tour to South Africa.

Jones dislocated his shoulder in the opening minutes of the Lions’ 28-10 victory over Japan at BT Murrayfield, ending his hopes of a fourth consecutive Tour and his first as captain.

And having played alongside Jones on the last two Tours, Lion #790 Murray admitted he will have big shoes to fill as skipper after accepting what he described as an “unbelievable honour”.

“We’re very disappointed to lose Alun Wyn. He’s been brilliant for the first two weeks. I’ve known him from the past two Tours and he’s been incredible. It’s a huge loss,” said Murray.

“Warren asked me just before the cap ceremony and it was surreal. I still don’t have my head around it, but it’s something that is an unbelievable honour.

“It’s something that I never thought would be possible. What kind of puts me at ease is that we’ve such a good leadership group that it means I can continue being myself.

“There’ll be a little bit more responsibility, but I don’t think it should change anything around the camp. I think that’s one of the most important things – that I remain myself, and I assume that’s why Warren asked me to do it.”

Murray toured with the Lions in 2013 and 2017 while he also has 89 Ireland caps and when asked whether he hesitated about accepting, the 32-year-old’s answer was emphatic.

“I didn’t think about long,” he added. “I said, ‘absolutely, it’ll be it’ll be a massive honour thank you very much for this opportunity’. So, no. Then you kind of think about how big it is and then obviously my phone has gone a bit crazy since it was announced.

“I’ve been lucky enough to be on a couple of Tours already, so it’s something that I’ve said to myself that I’m going to enjoy and take every moment and really, really enjoy the experience. It’s something that I’m going to relish and enjoy rather than feeling daunted by it.

“I know a lot of the lads here already, it’s a group that you can feed off. When it was announced I got a big round of applause and the boys were congratulating me. It feels really close.”

Murray is set to become just the 13th Irishman to captain the Lions in Test action when the tourists take on the Springboks in their first series against the world champions since 2009.

He will follow in the illustrious footsteps of Irish rugby icons such as Tom Crean, Ronnie Dawson, Willie John McBride, Brian O’Driscoll, Paul O’Connell and Peter O’Mahony.

And the 32-year-old hopes his previous Tour experience will serve him well in the role, having seen first hand what it takes to bring together the four homes nations into one team.

“I think you got to definitely understand how we’re trying to play, what we’re trying to do on the pitch, that’s the most important thing,” said Murray on the task ahead of him.

“I think your messaging has to be well thought out, you know, I think, in my career I suppose when I do speak it’s thought out. You know, it might not be that often, but it’s definitely has meaning and there’s thought behind it, and a genuineness to it.

“When you’re a Lion, you realise who you’re playing for, what you’re trying to achieve as a player and who you want to make proud. That’s what I’ve learned from team talks in Lions changing rooms and Ireland changing rooms and Munster changing rooms.

“I’ve been lucky enough to experience a lot of leaders and they always bring it back to who you’re trying to make proud and what you’re actually here for. I think driving that message is important.”

And with the likes of England captain Owen Farrell and Scotland skipper Stuart Hogg also in the 37-man squad, Murray believes he will be more than ably supported in the role.

“It’s a huge honour, but there’s such a good group of leaders in this squad that it makes it less daunting, definitely. I think there’s lads that you can lean on,” he added.

“We’ve seen it even for the first two weeks, a few other players would start to lead or start by saying a few words before training, or whatever the message might be for the week.

“There’s massive experience there so you know it’ll definitely be a group thing. I’m going to enjoy it and again lean on those boys. It’ll take a bit of getting used to, but it’s such an honour.”

Source – British & Irish Lions

by Andy Baber

27 June 2021 09:58 Reading Time: 4 mins

British & Irish Lions

Women’s Lions feasibility study group announced

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The 13-person group will be chaired by British & Irish Lion, Ieuan Evans, and is made up of experienced administrators from across professional rugby, business executives, as well as former international standard athletes from the world of sport. The group is tasked with looking into the feasibility of establishing a Women’s Lions team:

  • Ieuan Evans MBE (Chair) – British & Irish Lion and The British & Irish Lions board member
  • Ben Calveley – managing director, The British & Irish Lions
  • Susie Logan – group chief marketing Officer, Royal London
  • Joanna Manning-Cooper – group director of corporate affairs, Sky
  • Max Taylor – consumer director, Vodafone
  • Simon Rowe – head of global sports marketing, Canterbury
  • Sue Day MBE – chief operating & financial officer, RFU and RFU Board, Rugby Football Union
  • Anthony Eddy – director of Sevens and women’s rugby, Irish Rugby Football Union
  • Gemma Fay – head of girls & women’s strategy, Scottish Rugby
  • Hannah John – women’s high-performance lead (acting), Welsh Rugby Union
  • Nicky Ponsford – women’s high-performance manager, World Rugby
  • Shaunagh Brown – senior player, Harlequins Women and England
  • Niamh Briggs – senior player, Munster and Ireland, club coach and Garda Síochána (Police) Officer

The primary responsibility of the newly formed group will be to initiate, oversee and contribute towards a feasibility study which will seek to ascertain whether a Women’s Lions team could be formed. The study is being funded by Lions Global Partner, Royal London, who are also the inaugural ‘Principal Partner’ of the Women’s Lions programme.

Women's Lions Collage

As a champion of women’s sport, Royal London, the UK’s largest insurance mutual, will provide guidance and expertise to the working group.

The study will be undertaken by a specialist consulting firm which will be appointed by the steering group.

“We are excited to have put together such a stellar list of individuals who I know will add value to this project,” said Calveley.

“I believe a Women’s Lions team is a huge opportunity, but there are a number of challenges to consider when looking to create a successful women’s set-up. Financial viability, suitable opposition and appropriate scheduling in the women’s rugby calendar will all need rigorous analysis, research and careful consideration.

“We are very grateful to be working with a purpose-driven organisation like Royal London on this initiative. Our broader commercial family – including Sky, Vodafone and Canterbury – have also committed to provide their expertise and play an active role in the feasibility analysis.”

Ieuan Evans, added: “Women’s rugby is experiencing unprecedented growth around the world with participation levels continuing to increase every year.

“A Women’s Lions team is a big opportunity for the women’s game, and I am looking forward to working with the Steering Group to assess its viability.”

Commenting on the announcement Logan said: “We are committed to levelling the playing field in sport and we’re delighted to be supporting this important study to understand if the creation of a British & Irish Lions team for women will be possible.

“We want to support a society that is inclusive and benefits everyone, and this partnership with the Lions is a great opportunity to grow women’s rugby.”

Source – British & Irish Lions

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6 Nations

World Rugby to introduce contact training restrictions

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World Rugby

World Rugby and International Rugby Players (IRP) have published new contact training load guidance aimed at reducing injury risk and supporting short and long-term player welfare. The guidance is being supported by national players’ associations, national unions, international and domestic competitions, top coaches and clubs.

Earlier this year, World Rugby unveiled a transformational six-point plan aiming to cement rugby as the most progressive sport on player welfare. These new best-practice guidelines focus on the intensity and frequency of contact training to which professional rugby players should be exposed and have been shaped by consultation with players and coaches as well as leading medical, conditioning and scientific experts.

While the incidence of training injuries is low relative to that of matches, the volume of training performed means that a relatively high proportion (35-40 per cent) of all injuries during a season occur during training, with the majority of these being soft tissue injuries. Since the training environment is highly controllable, the guidelines have been developed to reduce injury risk and cumulative contact load to the lowest possible levels that still allow for adequate player conditioning and technical preparation.

Global study

The guidelines are based on a global study undertaken by IRP of almost 600 players participating across 18 elite men’s and women’s competitions, and a comprehensive review of the latest injury data. This reveals that training patterns vary across competitions, with an average of 21 minutes per week of full contact training and an average total contact load of 118 minutes per week. A more measured and consistent approach to training will help manage the contact load for players, especially those moving between club and national training environments. The research supports minimising contact load in training, in order that players can be prepared to perform but avoid an elevated injury risk at the same time. The guidelines aim to help strike that balance.

New ‘best practice’ training contact guidelines

World Rugby and International Rugby Players’ new framework [https://www.world.rugby/the-game/player-welfare/medical/contact-load] sets out clear and acceptable contact guidelines for training sessions, aiming to further inform coaches – and players – of best practice for reducing injury risk and optimising match preparation in season. The guidance covers the whole spectrum of contact training types, considering volume, intensity, frequency and predictability of contact, as well as the optimal structure of sessions across the typical training week, including crucial recovery and rest periods.

Recommended contact training limits for the professional game are:

  1. Full contact training: maximum of 15 minutes per week across a maximum of two days per week with Mondays and Fridays comprising zero full contact training to allow for recovery and preparation
  2. Controlled contact training: maximum of 40 minutes per week 
  3. Live set piece training: maximum of 30 minutes set piece training per week is advised

The guidelines, which also consider reducing the overall load for players of particular age, maturity and injury profile (in line with the risk factors and load guidance published in 2019), will feature in the men’s and women’s Rugby World Cup player welfare standards.

Instrumented mouthguard research programme to inform effectiveness

World Rugby is partnering with elite teams to measure the ‘real life’ effect of these guidelines (in training and matches) and assess the mechanism, incidence and intensity of head impact events using the Prevent Biometics market-leading instrumented mouthguard technology and video analysis to monitor implementation and measure outcomes.

The technology, the same employed in the ground-breaking Otago Rugby Head Impact Detection Study, will deliver the biggest ever comparable bank of head impact data in the sport with more than 1,000 participants across the men’s and women’s elite, community and age-grade levels. The teams that have signed up so far are multiple Champions Cup winners Leinster, French powerhouse Clermont Auvergne and Benetton Treviso while discussions are ongoing with several other men’s and women’s teams across a range of competitions.

World Rugby Chief Executive Alan Gilpin said: “This important body of work reflects our ambition to advance welfare for players at all levels of the game. Designed by experts, these guidelines are based on the largest study of contact training in the sport, developed by some of the best rugby, performance and medical minds in the game. We believe that by moderating overall training load on an individualised basis, including contact in season, it is possible to enhance both injury-prevention and performance outcomes, which is good for players, coaches and fans.”

World Rugby Director of Rugby and High Performance and former Ireland coach Joe Schmidt added: “Training has increasingly played an important role in injury-prevention as well as performance. While there is a lot less full contact training than many people might imagine, it is our hope that having a central set of guidelines will further inform players and coaches of key considerations for any contact that is done during training.

“These new guidelines, developed by leading experts and supported by the game, are by necessity a work in progress and will be monitored and further researched to understand the positive impact on player welfare. We are encouraged by the response that we have received so far.

“We recognise that community level rugby can be an almost entirely different sport in terms of fitness levels, resources and how players can be expected to train, but the guidelines can be applied at many levels, especially the planning, purpose and monitoring of any contact in training.”

International Rugby Players Chief Executive Omar Hassanein said the guidelines are being welcomed by players: “From an International Rugby Players’ perspective, this project represents a significant and very relevant piece of work relating to contact load. We’ve worked closely with our member bodies in gathering approximately 600 responses from across the globe, allowing us to have sufficient data to then be assessed by industry experts. The processing of this data has led to some quite specific recommendations which are designed to protect our players from injuries relating to excessive contact load. We will continue to work with World Rugby as we monitor the progress of these recommendations and undertake further research in this area.”

Leinster coach Stuart Lancaster, who was involved in reviewing the study and advising the development of the guidelines, said: “We have a responsibility to make the game as safe as possible for all our players. For coaches, optimising training plays a significant role in achieving that objective. It is important that we do not overdo contact load across the week in order that players are fresh, injury-free and ready for match days. These guidelines provide a practical and impactful approach to this central area of player preparation and management.”

Ireland international and IRP Head of Strategic Projects and Research Sene Naoupu said: “While this is the first step of the implementation and monitoring process, it is an incredible outcome that shows just how much players care about this area. It also provides a foundation to review and determine future direction of implementation across the game, within an evidence-based injury-prevention programme for performance and welfare.” 

World Rugby is also progressing a wide-ranging study of the impact of replacements on injury risk in the sport with the University of Bath in England, a ground-breaking study into the frequency and nature of head impacts in community rugby in partnership with the Otago Rugby Union, University of Otago and New Zealand Rugby, and further research specific to the professional women’s game. All of these priority activities will inform the decisions the sport makes to advance welfare for players at all levels and stages.

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British & Irish Lions

Jones vows Lions will “put it right” in final Test

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Photo by Dan Sheridan - Pool/Getty Images

The Lions were given a taste of their own medicine in the rematch, having staged a second-half comeback against the world champions to win the series opener 22-17.

South Africa were trailing 9-6 at the break at Cape Town Stadium on Saturday but scored 21 unanswered points in the second half to triumph 27-9 and level the series.

And while Jones conceded that the Lions were their own worst enemy in the second half, he believes the tourists will bounce back after asking themselves some tough questions.

“There was an obvious momentum shift. We were second best in the aerial battle and they got momentum from getting to the corners,” said the Lions skipper.

“Their set piece turned up more this week and put us under pressure and there was probably too much momentum for us to shift it back.

“From the outside it probably felt like a backlash but from where I’m sitting, we probably didn’t help ourselves. Parts of the game that were prevalent and positive last week weren’t there.

“That was particularly the case in the second half. We are fortunate, we have another week. It’s the biggest week of the Tour now and the last chance to put it right.”

Three penalties from Dan Biggar to Handre Pollard’s two gave the Lions a narrow lead at the interval as they looked to secure a first series win on South African soil since 1997.

Tries from Makazole Mapimpi and Lukhanyo Am turned the game on its head, however, while three more penalties from Pollard ensured the Boks levelled the series.

For Jones, the areas for improvement were clear to see in the second half as the Lions struggled to wrestle back momentum after conceding the first South African try.

“We had a bit of pressure early on and chased aerially too hard. We did well last week at stifling the maul on the deck and it’s something we need to look at,” said Jones.

“It was probably a by-product of the positive pressure we had early on in the game. We just need to stick to the plan. We were well aware of what they were going to improve on.

“They probably did to us what we wanted to do to them. They tried to do it last week, they just did it better [this week] and we saw more of it.

“From our lack of maintaining possession in key areas and giving away penalties, we gave them a roll on down the field. You can’t do that against any team, let alone the Springboks.”

The Lions will now have to do it the hard way if they want to secure only a third series win in South Africa since the beginning of the 20th century.

But Jones has seen enough in the eyes of his teammates in the post-game huddle to know that the men in red are more than capable of going again in the third and final Test.

“We got together after the game and we’ll stick together. It’s a squad effort,” he said.

“Gats is notorious for making changes and we’ll go again. There’s been a lot said about wounded Springboks but the Lions have taken a dent today and we need to put that right.

“There was a lot of eye contact and you could feel the fact that everyone is well aware Gats will make changes and there will be opportunities for some.

“I could definitely feel that everyone wants to put it right. They are big weeks. People ask about comparisons to previous Tours but you can’t compare them.

“They are different weeks and different opposition. It will be interesting to see what Gats does with the team. Definitely, it’s going to be a big week.”

Source – British & Irish Lions

by Andy Baber

1 August 2021 22:00 Reading Time: 3 mins

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