IF you thought the British and Irish Lions tour was organised with military precision, then it won't surprise you to learn that the man behind it was an ex-army officer.
Guy Richardson was the Lions Operations Director and the man responsible for ensuring 85 people arrived on time and intact on 11 separate legs of the seven-week trip.
Forward planning was the key. Richardson began his complex matrix -all done by pencil, paper and calendar (there's no Planning And Preparation In Rugbysoftware programme you can run) – three years before Sam Warburton and his soft toy mascot landed at Hong Kong airport.
Before Richardson even wrote a single word of his outline proposal for the trip three years ago, he spent six months interviewing 45 people who had been on Lions tours dating back to 1955.
“It's very slick operation considering we were moving 85 people around a huge country ,” he says.
“I started my planning with a blank piece of paper, a blank computer screen, and a new email address. Like all good plans, you just need solid foundations.
“Just as a good house can take all sorts of weather conditions, a good plan can withstand all types of challenges.
“That's my philosophy. After that, it's about implementation and getting the right people around you. Fortunately, I had a really good team around me of top people.”
The complexity of the Lions operation required Richardson to make three personal tours of Australia, checking out every hotel and training field they considered using.
His plan – with its planes, and trucks and buses being moved back and fore across Australia – even catered for imaginary players as well as those actually on the trip.
Because injured players drop like flies, and fit replacements are then flown out, the Lions carry 50 boxes of extra kit. It means that for any player arriving, whatever his shoe size, inside leg or neck circumference, there is always a complete wardrobe that will feel made-to-measure the minute he stepped off the plane.
The Lions travelled on schedule flights as they crisscrossed Australia, mixing freely with fans and locals. The ethos was to be seen and be humble. Only once did they charter a flight and that was when they moved from Perth to Brisbane – a trek that required plenty of stuff to be carried in the plan's hold.
When they flew south from Hong Kong, they only had 36 seats in business class so skipper Sam Warburton volunteered to go economy.
In the end, the captain was spared that ordeal because he was carrying an injury and so hooker Richard Hibbard squeezed himself in along with dozens of supporters.
Two months before the Lions left the UK, much of their equipment was shipped to Australia.
This included a good deal of their medical gear, training machines and computers used by their three-strong team of analysts, who crunched the numbers on all the opposing teams.
Because of the vast distances involved the Lions needed five separate sets of all this hardware. One set was used for their UK and Ireland training camps before they departed, another was based in Hong Kong where the opening fixture took place, Western Australia had another set, whilst the east coast required two more.
For everything else, the Lions hired three 20-tonne trucks to transfer all their gear around Australia.
The idea was that everything travelled ahead of the squad and was waiting for them on their arrival at each new venue.
Before they re-located in the various cities on the 10-match tour, every player packed a light 24-hour personal bag whilst all the rest of his stuff was moved on ahead of him. It was then waiting for him as he reached each new hotel.
There were 37 players at the start, 28 core support staff, including three media managers, six medical staff, two video analysts and five operations and security officers, a baggage master and a lawyer.
The other travellers were sponsorship and marketing staff, plus the wives and partners of the four home unions Lions committee.
Richardson adds: “Twice on the tour, 85 people got up, got on a bus, flew on an aircraft, were driven to a hotel, had lunch, got changed, and then went training.
“Quite frankly, that's staggering but you can only do that if you have a really good system in place where everything is laid out for you before you get there.
“This was all about providing an optimum environment for success. I could do some things and we could win or the same things and we could lose. The margins are small.”
From those small margins – and the meticulous planning – the Lions eventually produced their first series victory in 16 years.
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