The science behind a healthy victory on the pitch

Edinburgh centre James King
Edinburgh centre James King
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MURRAY Fleming stares intently at his laptop. In front of him are rows of coloured blocks, names and numbers.

A click of the mouse and video footage is brought up, and then yet more baffling statistics appear on the screen.

back row star Roddy Grant in action against the Dragons

back row star Roddy Grant in action against the Dragons

The information would be unintelligible to anyone else but, to him, it is pure gold. To him, it is the science of winning.

Murray’s office is Murrayfield Stadium and his business is rugby. He ensures no player is hidden from the hi-tech gaze.

“During the games we ensure that they are recorded on laptops so the coaches have live feeds in front of them, and can do live reviews as the game’s going on,” enthuses Edinburgh Rugby’s performance analyst.

“During a game I’ll be hitting a whole lot of buttons.”

Performance analyst Murray Fleming

Performance analyst Murray Fleming

What he ends up with is a breakdown of the game, play by play and player by player, each of which he can select to show the relevant video footage. As soon as the match finishes, coaches can instantly view all the scrums, all the moves by a particular player and so on – and pick out the lessons they want to pass on to the team.

The science does not stop there. GPS trackers carried in “sports bras”, minute-by-minute diet plans – it’s all a far cry for the time when the ideal preparation for a rugby match was a few pints in the clubhouse.

As Edinburgh players get ready for the match of their lives against European giants Toulouse in the quarter-finals of the Heineken Cup on Saturday, their preparations are based more on the findings of the lab than the bottom of a glass.

Tucked away in the team’s gym beneath the West Stand are rows of specialist kit to prevent injury and promote fitness and recovery from bumps and bruises.

Physio Stuart Paterson

Physio Stuart Paterson

Among those using new techniques to push the team to its peak is lead fitness coach, Andy Boyd.

On Saturday, he will be employing one of the latest tools in his armoury – £60,000 worth of GPS trackers, which players wear to see exactly how far and how fast they move during the game.

He says: “They are two-inch units which sit between the players’ shoulder blades in what some people have called a ‘sports bra’ and track the distances they would cover on the pitch or the training pitch.”

Andy and his team are building up a body of knowledge about each player’s movements which will enable them to hone their performance in the future.

Fitness coach Andy Boyd

Fitness coach Andy Boyd

He says: “Tim Visser might be able to run as fast as Usain Bolt but in a rugby setting you’re not able to do that, so it’s looking at how we get the most out of players like Tim. You can say ‘at that stage you missed that tackle and you’d just covered 6km, so maybe it’s a fitness issue’ or, if not, maybe it’s a training issue.”

Murray adds that the video work actually starts before the match. He says: “Everybody in our squad is encouraged to look at the opposition’s games through the week. It’s key for everybody to know what the opposition are doing.

“We’ve been keeping an eye on Toulouse for weeks now.”

Every team is trying to get an edge over its competitors, and the use of the latest technology is closely monitored to make sure it isn’t giving its users an unfair advantage.

Edinburgh had to disclose their intention to use the GPS kits during Saturday’s game and Toulouse, who will not be using them, had to agree.

The GPS is just one part of Andy’s armoury, though.

Lead nutritionist Richard Chessor

Lead nutritionist Richard Chessor

Specialist machines in the gym include a running machine with a harness which can be adjusted to bear as much or as little of a player’s weight as necessary, to avoid exacerbating injury. There’s also the ballistic measurement machine – a tower with a metal cable hanging down the middle which looks more like a piece of torture equipment than a sporting aid.

“It’s basically a machine that you can jump up and down on. It looks at player fatigue in the legs,” Andy says.

“The player steps on it and performs a couple of jumps, and it takes the lower body power. That’s a weekly measure for us to see how quickly they have recovered from the game. It takes into account body weight, how quickly they jump and how high they jump.”

If players are not recovering quickly enough, their diet and training can be adjusted and their jump heights are recorded in a league table on the wall of the gym for added motivation. Last week, Nick De Luca topped the chart with an impressive jump of 64cm.

Tracking recovery from the previous game is a key part of getting ready for the next, according to lead physiotherapist Stuart Paterson. His job is not only to help players get over their injuries, but to make sure they don’t occur in the first place.

Before the players go into the gym the week after a match, Stuart and his team examine in minute detail how their body is working, checking their hip mobility, thoracic spine mobility and making sure all the right muscles are firing at the right time.

Also keeping up the discipline of the team is lead nutritionist Richard Chessor.

He begins every Monday morning with a body composition analysis of the players. Pulling out yet another device that looks like a torture implement, he describes the “skinfold technique”.

The fiendish-looking callipers are used to measure fat levels on eight different sites across the body to see how much fat they are carrying.

It’s also a valuable chance for Richard to catch up with the players and ask them how they feel their nutrition is progressing. He encourages them to follow the 80-20 rule, where 80 per cent of what they eat is controlled, and 20 per cent is a chance for them to indulge in what they fancy.

He says: “Most of these guys will be eating up to 5500 calories a day. With a typical diet they’re eating six or seven times a day with protein, fat and carbs in every meal.”

While foodies might look in envy at rugby players who are ordered to eat more than twice the recommended daily calorie intake, Richard says it’s actually quite difficult to consume that much and make it good quality. Several Big Macs just won’t do the job.

It might be an exacting programme, but Richard says the players are keen.

He says: “They do take it very seriously. There’s a level of peer pressure within the group that nutrition is part of the performance and part of the package. It’s not just something that you do when you’re hungry.

“We know the guys who like to be a bit looser in their diet – we won’t name names – but we encourage that sometimes. The Sunday after the Toulouse game will be a much more relaxed eating day for them.”

It might be a hi-tech training regime that keeps the players at their peak, but sometimes the techniques he employs are distinctly old-school.

He adds: “It’s a carrot and stick, sometimes it’s a pat on the back, sometimes its a kick on the backside.”