Inside the Lions Camp: First Impressions

The British & Irish Lions. When you say those words it immediately brings up a glittering highlights reel of magnificent moments which live in the folklore of rugby union. From Willie John McBride’s “99” call in 1974 to Jeremy Guscott’s drop goal in 1997, to George North’s rampaging runs in 2013 and Owen Farrell’s nerves of steel in 2017.

The British & Irish Lions are different. It’s the pinnacle. It’s the dream of every rugby playing child to be a part of it one day and I am no different. That is why representing Fifty Digital on a Lions Tour is both a privilege and an honour.

Admittedly, I am on Tour to create the most compelling social media content and not to play, so am by no means “a Lion”, but it doesn’t mean I can’t wear the kit or eat like one! It did mean I chickened out of getting an Uber there and twisted my friend’s arm to drive me to the airport, as I was in full kit.

The first week has consisted of a pre-tour training camp on the island of Jersey. With PCR tests a few days before departure and immediately on landing, as well as social distancing and masks, the bubble has been in full operation. Operating in a bubble is not ideal but the administrative staff have done a fantastic job at making it enjoyable.

The temperature checks, symptom tracker, mask wearing, PCR tests and lateral flow tests are all very manageable and you quickly adjust to them. It’s outweighed by the coffee machine, beautiful weather initially, games machines, team building, great people, Covid-secure activities and a pleasant hotel environment on the waterfront.

As a big guy who used to play rugby, I often get mistaken for a player. One of the coaches was trying to work out which country I played for when we first met, as with a mask on it is hard to tell who is who initially. I don’t actually know who he settled on me being, but I was called Tadhg Beirne by one of the backroom staff…

What has the best bit been so far? Well, it’s genuinely impossible to pick a favourite so I’ll list a couple.

Getting to know everyone and being surrounded by the best-of-the-best in their fields, from a mixture of countries, is motivating and inspiring. It’s also hilarious as there are some real characters on Tour, with ‘Rala’ the kitman and ‘Bobby’ the Head of Strength & Conditioning standing out for their energy, stories and banter. The kit is also amazing.

The food, cooked by chef Andre Moore from the WRU, is outstanding. From the teriyaki beef to the protein coffee cheesecakes and the mango chicken, every mealtime is a rollercoaster ride for the tastebuds. Then the Covid-secure activities have been a great way to see the island and get to know people, with golf, a beach day, a team meal out on a clifftop and the Jersey war tunnels all a highlight.

From a work perspective, the first week has been about planning ahead and bringing fans inside the inner sanctum wherever possible. This is alongside the usual content needs of commercial partners and day-to-day outputs generally.

One crucial area of focus has been short-form, authentic video targeted at young, non-traditional rugby audiences on Instagram Stories, Reels and TikTok.  This is part of our efforts to help retain and inspire existing fans, while branching out into new audience segments and markets to grow the Lions’ brand presence.  Accompanying this is a new and edgier, more relatable tone of voice which will supplement the immersive video content.

Having an open training session with 1200 fans also allowed us to showcase our supporters, aka the ‘Sea of Red’, who despite not being able to travel, will still be an enormous part of everything we do and produce.

The coming week will be full noise preparation for Japan. We welcomed Kyle Sinckler and Tom Curry into camp yesterday (Sunday) with the Saracens contingent and Finn Russell arriving later today.

I will be sharing a weekly update of my Tour experience so for all things behind the scenes, real life and banter, please join me on my journey!