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British & Irish Lions


New images highlight important role of tech in connecting the players to the fans during 2021 Tour, the most connected yet



Mads Perch for Vodafone

Vodafone, Lead Partner of the British and Irish Lions Tour to South Africa, has today released a series of powerful new images of ambassadors, Maro Itoje and first-time Lions Hamish Watson and Louis Rees-Zammit. The images see emotive and personal social media messages of support from Lions fans across the four nations projected onto each of the star rugby players.

Vodafone and the British and Irish Lions are brands united by a shared commitment to connect people to each other and the things they love. The new imagery is a powerful demonstration of how Vodafone is bringing fans closer to the 2021 Tour and the squad than ever before through its digital-first campaign.

The images have been released ahead the Vodafone Lions 1888 Cup which takes place on Saturday 26 June at Murrayfield, Edinburgh.  The messages of encouragement from fans will help to motivate players as they gear up for the game against Japan and prepare to leave the UK for the Tour – letting them know that the four nations are behind them, despite fans being unable to travel to South Africa this Summer. 

The imagery shows how the power of the connectivity can bring players and fans together, which is more important than ever with no travelling fans.

Max Taylor, Consumer Director at Vodafone UK, said: “We are excited to be able to give Lions fans and players an opportunity to unite and connect ahead of the upcoming Tour.  This is more important now than it has ever been. We hope these messages will show the players that even though British & Irish Lions fans can’t be there, they’re still very much cheering them on”.

Maro Itoje said: “Fans are such an important part of any sport and one of the biggest, if not the biggest, reason why most of us play. With no fans there is an evident missing piece. It’s incredible seeing how much support we have as a team and it is a huge boost for the whole squad as we head to South Africa.”

Hamish Watson said: “We’ve all missed having fans there with us – they really do have the power to inspire us. So being able to receive these incredible fan messages has been a great boost. It has spurred me and the team on even more to do them proud. We love to the see the messages so please keep the support coming while we are on tour.”

Louis Rees-Zammit said: “It’s been a tough year not being able to connect with fans physically. So, we are grateful for the power of technology and social media that has allowed us to stay connected and motivate us for this upcoming tour. This is my first Lions Tour and the support so far has been overwhelming.”

Vodafone has named six official player ambassadors spanning all four nations for the 2021 British & Irish Lions tour to South Africa this Summer – Captain Alun Wyn Jones (Wales), Stuart Hogg (Scotland), Hamish Watson (Scotland), Tadgh Furlong (Ireland), Louis Rees-Zammit (Wales) and Maro Itoje (England).  Other partnership ambassadors include Maggie Alphonsi, Emily Scarratt and ex Lions legends Sir Ian McGeechan, Sam Warburton, Jeremy Guscott and Paul O’Connell.

Maro Itoje, Hamish Watson and Louis Rees-Zammit are official Vodafone ambassadors for the 2021 British & Irish Lions Tour to South Africa. Vodafone is using the power of connectivity to bring fans closer to the Tour than ever before. Download the official Lions app, powered by Vodafone to start the experience now.

British & Irish Lions

Women’s Lions feasibility study group announced



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



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 [] 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



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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