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Secrets to keep 37 hungry lions fit to take on world champions South Africa




The arrest of the South Africans is a major operation. Wherever the Lions travel this summer, they’ll be taking 25 tons of luggage filled with everything from height tablets to tackle bags to a Space Invaders arcade machine. Save a thought for the couriers.

Every detail of the tour is mapped out. Seats on the bus have already been designated and menus have been sent to the hotels early, with instructions to stock up on 8,288 eggs (four per player, per day) and a single springboks steak.

Preparations began long before the Lions arrived in Jersey this week. Tailor-made training plans have been created for each of the 37 players as they prepare to beat the world champions. Sports post went behind the scenes to find out exactly what it takes.

Lions coach Warren Gatland needs his players in the best shape to take on South Africa


On last month’s board day in London, each player’s blood was tested. The purpose of the tests was to determine the iron content prior to the high-altitude fixtures in Johannesburg. Those with lower iron levels will begin a course of supplemental iron tablets this week to prepare for the low-oxygen conditions.

“We identified 12 players with lower iron levels,” said team nutritionist Jon Williams. ‘There is less oxygen at altitude, so you need more red blood cells to supply your body with oxygen. If you have a low iron level, it is harder for your body to make red blood cells, so those 12 get extra iron tablets.’


Altitude training rooms are off limits due to Covid regulations. Instead, the strength and conditioning team has introduced masks that limit the amount of oxygen players receive during fitness exercises. Each player has their own initialed mask, which can be connected to Everest top generators worth £3,599 each.

Tailor-made training plans have been made for each of the 37 players this summer

“Four mornings a week, we do watt cycling sessions with these simulated altitude masks,” said chief of strength and conditioning Bobby Stridgeon.

“It’s a six-second sprint with 24 seconds of rest, six times; three sets with a two minute break between each set. Six seconds doesn’t seem like much, but for an anaerobic sport like rugby you get maximum power and force.’


Management was sweating when the cryotherapy room for their base in Jersey ran aground because of French fishing rows. Fortunately, it came in time for this week’s training camp. Players strip down to shorts, clogs and a mask, before stepping into -90C conditions to speed up recovery.

“The players use it twice a day,” Stridgeon said. “So I panicked when it was there 13 miles across the sea. It came from the Toulouse Rugby Club so we had to rename it when it arrived!’

Chris Harris (right), Louis Rees-Zamit (left) and Zander Fagerson during a recovery session

The players can take a dip in the Atlantic Ocean for similar results. “There’s a big pool in Jersey that fills with seawater at low tide,” Stridgeon added.

‘The water gives you hydrostatic pressure. It acts like a pump to get fresh blood to your heart. It allows blood to flow without putting too much pressure on the joints. It’s also good for the mind, going to the beach!’


Monday: leg day. Tuesday: upper body. Thursday: power. Commercial gyms are off limits in South Africa, so the team will use a makeshift tent at their hotels, with dumbbells weighing up to 90kg each.

“We’ll keep our weight down because we need to be big, strong and powerful for these Springboks,” Stridgeon said. “We’ll be pushing power and power all the time: squats, step-ups, Nordic hamstring curls, explosive sleds…anything.

“We need to have a smile and a little banter to make it fun. Loud music, videos on the screens of other athletes training; bobsleigh guys doing their deadlifts, or something like that. Unfortunately I don’t have a video of Andrew Sheridan squatting 240 pounds of reps at the time!”


Players consume between 4,000 and 6,000 calories per day. Chef Andre Moore, who previously worked with Michel Roux Jr. will travel with the team to ensure every nutritional need is met. A specially designed app helps players understand their requirements before and after each session.

Breakfast is a rolling buffet from 8am and offers a few homely comforts such as Scotch oats, Heinz baked beans and lava bread. “If you have to refuel for an afternoon session, you need a lot of carbs,” Williams said. ‘If you want to repair and maintain muscles, you need protein.

“There is always a lot of hammering on the salad table, because players are better trained in food. It’s not like a few years ago when you could put a spaghetti bolognese in front of someone and they’d be happy.’

Full defender Liam Williams (above) will have his hands full as head of entertainment on tour


8,288 eggs (4 eggs per player, 37 players, 56 days)

2,368 chicken breasts

7,000 12oz fillet steaks

With local restaurants off limits, there will be one theme night per week, including Japanese, Chinese, Indian, Mexican and Greek. There will even be a ‘Four Nations’ night, featuring lamb screech, haggis, rarebit, beef hotpot and Guinness cheesecake.

“We’ve had big Mexican nights in the past where the wait staff wear mustaches and have a piñata filled with protein bars,” Williams says. “We’re having a grill night and ask the hotel chef to do his local takeout. They can bring local meats like impala steaks and springboks steaks. Players will be excited to experience the local food.”

On match days, most players opt for a light meal before the match. Afterwards there are pizzas, chicken satay strips and fish goujons in the changing rooms. Later at the hotel there is a meal packed with carbohydrates and proteins.

“Some players prefer to load up on carbs the day before the game, then just top up on game day so they don’t feel embarrassed. In the evenings back at the hotel, steak baguettes and potato wedges are popular.’



7,200 protein drinks

4,900 protein bars

3,200 joint charging sachets (collagen, glucose, turmeric gel to reduce inflammation and promote soft tissue healing)

A total of 13 pallets of supplements were shipped by the official suppliers, PAS Nutrition. Two to Jersey, one to Scotland, six to Johannesburg and four to Cape Town. The care packs contain everything from sealed protein drinks to fish oil and Night Time Recharge drinks. “The sleep formula is very popular on tour,” Williams says.

‘It consists of amino acids, tryptophan and sour cherry, which contains melatonin. Being out of your area in a hotel will help you get really deep sleep if you take it 20 minutes before going to bed. Two tons of products have been shipped.’


Liam Williams stepped in as head of entertainment and the fullback will have to be creative as outdoor activities are limited.

The tech-savvy analysts are tasked with finding international streams of Love Island while shipping a large number of gaming machines.

The ITV2 dating show Love Island becomes a popular program for the players on tour

“It’s no use if people get miserable, so we’ve got some Space Invaders machines, pool table, table tennis, poker table, scrabble, chess,” Stridgeon said. ‘We have an interactive dartboard. He weighs about 300 kg. It’s built into a slot machine, keeps track of your score, and has cameras built into it.

“We have to work hard on entertainment. We don’t travel all the time from hotel to hotel, so the boys have more free time for sleeping in and mental recovery.’

Stridgeon will also curate celebrity videos for his famous ‘Bobby Cup’ award. “If we win two games in a row, someone gets the Bobby Cup. It can be for anything; best player, selfless act, whatever. We have celebrities announcing it: David Beckham, the cast of Gavin and Stacey, Dolph Lundgren, Prince Harry, Piers Morgan. It must be a trophy. It can’t be chic: a plastic cup is enough!’

l Pro Athlete Supplementation (PAS) as the official performance nutrition supplier of the 2021 Castle Lager Lions series in South Africa.

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