WHEN RUGBY World teamed up with Gatorade to launch Save Your Season, we knew we could have adramatic effect on a struggling club’s ability to win rugby matches and climb the table. And that’s precisely what happened, Eton Manor finishing acreditable sixth in London North One last season after we gave them a performance makeover like no other.
What we didn’t know was how strongly the messages would transfer from one season to the next. Would the best practices adopted by the players last winter still be as rigorously applied in the 2012-13 campaign? Would the team slide away once we had packed up and gone away?
We needn’t have worried. Eton Manor have gone from strength to strength – and the Save Your Season programme is at the heart of the improvement.
“Save Your Season has raised the awareness of everyone, players and coaches, as to how important diet, hydration and fitness are to your ability to play the game,” says Ged White, Eton Manor’s director of rugby and first-team manager.
“It has given everybody a focus and has had a hugely positive effect on the club.”
Through comprehensive testing, Save Your Season established that many of the Eton Manor players were failing to perform to their potential because of inadequate nutrition and hydration. Dr Ian Rollo, of the Gatorade Sports Science Institute, advised them how to address this.
In addition, professionals from Saracens and Harlequins passed on precious tips on strength and conditioning, London Irish ran a skills session, and performance analysts Opta provided some hard-hitting data after filming one of Eton Manor’s league matches.
“The biggest eye-opener was the Opta analysis, because players didn’t realise how unfit they were and how little they were contributing to a game,” says White. “As coaches we can talk about fitness till we’re blue in the face but when the analysis is presented in that way there’s no escaping it.
“The result is that the workload is now shared more evenly. And that’s because of an increased emphasis on fitness in training. Even in the Thursday session we will often do work in a fatigued state, to replicate conditions towards the end of a game.
“From a hydration point of view, the players are more aware of the need to take responsibility for their own actions before, during and after games. And it’s not about drinking two litres of water two hours before a game but what you do from the start of the day, and even in the week. Players are drinking Gatorade and everybody is buying into it. For away games now, rather than meet at our club we tell the players where the game is and when to be there, and they turn up on time and properly hydrated. It’s the same with nutrition. Players are taking more care of what and when they eat.”
The results on the field have been highly impressive. Eight of the first ten league matches were won – the first five with bonus points – as Eton Manor consolidated in third place.
“The target was always to improve on last season’s sixth position. But given how we’re going, I’d be disappointed not to make the top four or even the top two.
“We’ve made small improvements in a lot of areas. Part of that is because the team is a year older and a year more experienced. Someone like Max Murray has gained in confidence by having another year under his belt. He’s taken on board what was said to him on hydration and diet and fitness.
“Because we’re fitter, we can play the game for longer and at a faster pace. Against Colchester (won 19-14), we were under the cosh in the second half but our fitness saw us home. In the past we would have flagged and conceded a score or two, and lost the game. Our increased fitness also means we get fewer soft-tissue injuries.”
Now coached by Jamie Connors (forwards), Gary Jones (backs and fitness) and Simon Bottomley (scrum), Eton Manor have attracted several new players as a result of the publicity generated by Save Your Season. Rugby World published four features on the club last season in the print magazine, supplementing a digital and social media campaign.
“There’s no doubt the exposure we’ve had in Rugby World has led to an uptake and interest in joining the club, even stretching down to the mini/junior set-up. There’s a feeling that ‘my club is in Rugby World, we’re supported by Gatorade’.”
Rugby World is again running Save Your Season in conjunction with Gatorade. So if you’re a hard-working amateur club in need of professional support, drop us a line. Explain in no more than 50 words why we should pick your club and email us at firstname.lastname@example.org
But don’t delay – the closing date for entries is Friday 23 November.