Science and rugby

I THOUGHT I’d throw some quick insight on the HSBC World Rugby Sevens Series and the challenges all the teams will face in having to back up their performances after the last leg.

For the data geeks, here are some numbers:

Every player in a 7s team covers approximately 1.6km to 2.2km each game. Six games equals around 13km.

Six warm-ups of approximately 800m-1.2km – so that’s another 7km.

It means that players will cover about 20km in a tournament weekend, and on top of collisions in the games, including scrums, tackles and rucks, that’s a big load. In comparison, it is unlikely that you will run more than 10km for most positions in the XVs game. International sevens players will do back-to-back games in a weekend and then fly to another country, often in a different time zone, and do it all again.

Ready for day one

Teams also, quite often, start game one on day one of a tournament not totally recovered from jet lag. Once they do get over jet lag, off they go to another tournament or travel back home. They wake up after day one of a tournament with knocks and fatigue – the feeling of being in a car crash is the usual analogy, but whatever ‘body feels beaten up’ reference you use, no one jumps out of bed sprightly and ready for the off.

A lot of teams do what they call a ‘blow out’ before their first game in a tournament and before the second day at a tournament as well. A ‘blow out’ involves a short session that can be on a field or in a gym or perhaps a swimming pool. I’ve seen some teams do it in local parks, outside hotels and even in stadium car parks. The argument for doing this on top of all the workload they already have to do in game time is to give the players their ‘second wind’ so they are ready to go for the first game. A primer of sorts. I used to do it with the England Sevens team but I didn’t like it; it seemed counter-intuitive. We did some research with UK Sport and Bath University around the use of ‘blow outs’, and research couldn’t tell us that it was hugely positive, so when I went to Fiji I binned it.

Reducing workload and fatigue

As far as I’m aware, Fiji Sevens were the only team in the history of the sevens to have a perfect ‘day one season’ – winning 30/30 pool games in 2014/15. We actually did some contrast preparations – one side of the hotel corridor would have hot baths or showers running in the players rooms, and on the other side we set up ice baths. Skipping between the two and getting the benefits of that certainly worked for us and kept the legs away from another 1-2km of needless running.

Appliance of science

Other tricks teams will use is in recovery and preparation. NormaTec, or other compression systems, would be used to aid recovery, and the Game Ready system used to ice and compress knocks before, after and even as the players sleep are all used. Foam rollers and Therabands litter changing rooms. Beetroot and cherry juice get gulped down, light emitting headphones, meditation, compression wear, acupuncture, massage, swimming, carb loading, coaches putting themselves into a state of ketosis to think more clearly, are all evident during tournaments. That might have been me, although it certainly didn’t work in Vegas with the muffins they usually had in the canteen! The days get long and an occasional can of coke or ‘red ambulance’ was occasionally grabbed too – a weakness I managed to eventually lose.

The medics work overtime, the coaches hunch over the match analysis and the players do the same. Referees are no different; they will be having meetings with coaches, coach educators, mentors and tournament officials as well as their normal training schedules. The management teams of all the playing squads will be washing kit, changing numbers on jerseys, organising flights for departing injured players, getting visas, and dealing with last minute ticket requests or VIP visits to the tournament. The management keep the team happy and are constantly thrown curve balls as training venues are changed, boots are lost, mouthguards replaced, drug testers arrive and needing to be managed. You wouldn’t believe how hard it is to find long studs in Hong Kong too.

Tournament duties and engagements

Tournaments also have official functions that all teams go to. Captains do interviews and photo shoots and often teams will visit schools in the lead up to the tournament weekend to share the sevens love. It’s all fun if you treat it as a challenge but tournament week is also pretty full on. So, as you see all the teams run out this weekend, you’ll have a little more insight into the preparation that goes on behind the scenes that leads up to that point. Coaches and players accelerate their experiences so quickly on the sevens circuit.

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