Extreme measures being taken to protect players as the mercury soars in Hong Kong.
Water breaks, pitchside fans and ice jackets will help keep the British and Irish Lions cool against the Barbarians on what is set to be in Hong Kong’s hottest day this year, officials said Friday.
The four water timeouts, unique in Lions history, will help players stay hydrated in the expected 30C-plus temperatures and humidity of up to 90 percent, despite Saturday’s 7:30 pm local time kick-off at Hong Kong Stadium.
The unprecedented move has been agreed between the teams’ medical staff and match officials, with a Lions spokesman saying the breaks were within International Rugby Board (IRB) guidelines for playing in extreme weather.
A day ahead of the tour opener, the Lions’ first ever game in Asia, the Hong Kong government issued a “very hot weather warning” as the afternoon mercury rose in excess of 33C, with similar expected Saturday.
Hong Kong Stadium sits in a sheltered, often windless, valley and given the steamy conditions the measures have been imposed on health and safety grounds to prevent the players losing too much fluid and to combat heat exhaustion.
The match action will be halted for a short time in the 15th, 30th, 55th and 70th minutes to allow the players to take on water and electrolytes.
Lions defence coach Andy Farrell told reporters there would also be cooling fans at the side of pitch and “ice jackets” available for the players to wear at half-time and after the match to cool their core body temperatures.
Despite the meticulous precautions, Farrell said that the players would cope easily with the Asian summer climate as they were “in brilliant nick”.
“We’ve coped really well with the conditions in training, in the morning and afternoon when it’s been really hot, so it won’t be a problem tomorrow,” Farrell said.
“It’s just common sense in this heat and humidity to do the right thing. The water breaks will be fast.
“They’ve got ice vests that they can use. They can take their top off at half-time and put them on to cool their body down,” Farrell added.
“Anyway once they are in the game, they are thinking about rugby, they won’t be thinking about heat or exhaustion.”
Farrell revealed that some players had lost three to four kilograms during the first training session in Hong Kong earlier this week, which lasted only one hour.
But he said their hydration levels, weight and urine were being constantly monitored and as the week had gone on they had adjusted well.
“The next day, we had rehydration breaks and fans on the side of the pitch, and the boys only lost one kilogram,” Farrell said. “You can lose that in a match at home when it’s minus two.”
Saturday’s game is a prelude to the Lions’ tour of Australia, which features three Tests and wraps up in early July.