If you've never been on a rugby tour, you're in for a treat. Rugby tours are about as much fun as you can have in a week / weekend. You get a few days away from the Mrs, a few nights drinking with the boys and if you're lucky, a bit of rugby in there too. Rugby tours are where the fun is at. The weekend we look forward to all off-season. But they have a dark side as well. Chances are this will be the one game you play without your mouth guard, the night you lose your phone and trip that gets you in the doghouse.
The Ruck Science team has made all the basics rugby tour mistakes before. And today, we're giving you a roadmap for avoiding them. These are the 10 things we suggest you absolutely MUST take on rugby tour. Plus a couple of bonus strategies that can help you avoid the most common stuff-ups.
For the purposes of this article, "rugby tour" really means any rugby game that requires at least one night in a hotel. This could be a weekend trip, a week long multi-city debacle or simply a game where you need to stay in a hotel the night before you play because its a long drive. All the same principles apply in these situations. We've split the essentials into 4 categories; getting on the field, staying comfortable, staying connected and getting enough sleep. These are the four areas in which you can have the most impact with a few minor additions to your kit bag.
Aside: the photo at the top of the page is taken from the US Embassy in New Zealand and shows the USA Eagles' squad for the 1908 tour. If USA Rugby had replica jerseys like that for sale, we'd buy one in a heart beat! Your move Nigel.
GETTING ON THE FIELD
Rugby tours are about much more than rugby. But at some point, you're going to have to get on the field. Unfortunately, that can often be the hardest part of tour. You haven't slept enough, people are arriving at different times and there's generally less coordination than there would be for a home game. But despite all that, you've gotta get ready to play. Here are our 3 suggestions for game-day preparation:
Spare Shorts and Socks
How often have you been sitting in the changing rooms only to hear a small voice ask "does anyone have spare (shorts, socks, boots, mouth guard...)?" More than once we'll bet. Everyone has done it, but on tour this seems to happen much more often. Either a player has lost a bag traveling, left something at the hotel or just failed to pack properly. It's going to happen. All you can really do is plan for it to happen by bringing spares. Spare shorts, spare socks and spare boots are essentials on rugby tour. And on the off chance you're the fool who forgot their shit, don't make excuses, just own it and remember to bring spares next time.
By the middle of the season, most of us are held together by strapping tape. But for some reason we all forget how much we're going to need it on tour. Perhaps we just get giddy at the thought of going on an airplane.
The clubs that you'll be playing on rugby tour will almost certainly have a great bunch of guys. Even if you are playing against them. But don't assume that they'll provide everything YOU need to get on the field. If you'd usually rely on the team physio for strapping, you probably can't guarantee this on rugby tour. Take your own strapping tape and be ready to share it because the "borrowers" are going to corner you for it when you're done.
If you use supplements to support recovery after rugby games, its important to take these with you on tour. But they can't be the bulky stuff you store on your kitchen counter. There's nothing funnier than watching a tight head prop try to get through airport security with 5lbs of whey protein under his arm. You want to bring a few supplements that you've used before and that you know will give you performance and recovery benefits at game time.
From the Ruck Science range, the best supplements to take on rugby tour would be our BCAA tablets, nitrate supplement and pre-workout power. If you're on a Ketogenic diet, like the All Blacks' - you might want to bring some KetoCaNa or KetoForce.
If you're like us, you like to be comfortable. But staying comfortable on rugby tour is an inherently difficult thing to do. You're traveling for one thing, which sucks. You're carrying around dirty rugby gear, which smells. And you're probably in a rush to get everywhere. How do you stay comfortable with all those things going on? It's tough, but here are three things we've found useful.
After home rugby games, its easy to throw your kit bag in the trunk of the car and forget about it until Tuesday night training. It's not the best decision in the world. But its definitely one strategy for dealing with the "smell of rugby". When you're on rugby tour however, you need to carry around your disgusting gear for hours or potentially days. There are 3 ways to deal with this:
- You can clean your stuff. Lets just admit this right now, you're not going to clean anything on rugby tour. If you would, you're a one in a million.
- You can throw your stuff away. It's effective in the short-term. But its not the most sustainable solution, especially when you need it next week.
- You can wrap everything in plastic bags.
The last of those options is clearly the best. You get to keep your stuff and avoid the smell of rugby gear. We suggest bringing at least two plastic bags. Because as with socks and boots, someone is going to forget theirs and you'll need to supply one for them.
An Old Towel
We know, you're going to just grab a towel at the hotel, right? You couldn't possibly forget to do that when you're late for the bus and running to the elevator, could you? Before you leave your house for rugby tour, grab the oldest towel you can find. Not the fancy one in the guest bathroom, put that back!
You want a towel that fulfills 2 requirements; 1. your wife won't know its gone and 2. you won't care if it gets left on tour. Ideally you want to bring a towel that you can throw away as soon as you've used it. What happens when you don't have a towel? It gets ugly. Just trust us. The best bet is to actually pack your towel at the very bottom of your kit bag before you put anything else in. Towel first, everything else second.
Flip Flops / Thongs
Bringing thongs with you on tour is essential. Putting dirty socks back on is just awful. The solution might sound simple, just bring more socks, right? Wrong. You're not going to want to put shoes on to walk around your hotel. You're not going to want to go down to the pool in your running shoes. You want your toes to breathe easy. If you don't own a pair of flip flops, we suggest these ones from a Dallas, TX company called Hari Mari. They're super-durable, a critical feature for rugby players.
Unless you have the ability to work remotely, we don't recommend that you take a laptop on rugby tour. It's just one more thing that can get lost, stolen or broken by a drunken teammate falling in the dark. For those of you who charge your cell phone with a USB cable in your car or computer, this presents a problem. The solution is super-simple though. Buy / take a wall charger with you. Don't rely on a teammate. Don't assume someone will have the charger you need. This is especially true if you're somehow still using a Blackberry. Make sure you have the ability to plug your phone into a wall and leave it there to juice-up. Forgetting to do this leads to all manner of other problems caused by miscommunication.
Headphones are an essential travel tool, but they're an even more important rugby tour tool. Teammates don't stop talking. Depending on your mood at the time, that can be either a good or a bad thing. Do you need to listen to music constantly? Not necessarily. But having the option is absolutely crucial. You don't want to get stuck in a conversation about politics, religion or any other touchy subject if you don't have to. Stick your headphones on and avoid the drama.
GETTING ENOUGH SLEEP
Every rugby player needs quality sleep in order to have a good performance on game day. But too few of us plan for the sleeping situation we're going to have on rugby tour. You're likely to be sharing a room, or even a bed with another dude. And that can be difficult at the best of times. Factor in the appalling pillows and mattresses in most hotel rooms and you've got a recipe for 3 hours of shitty, interrupted sleep. Here's how you solve the problem:
Perhaps the most under-utilized nutritional supplement for rugby players. Or for anyone for that matter. Melatonin is a naturally-occurring hormone released by your brain in order to help you get to sleep. Exogenous melatonin accelerates this process and will basically knock you out if you take enough of it. Some studies have used dosages that range from 2mg to 10mg per day. We take about 15mg to get to sleep. But some rugby players will take more than this in order to guarantee that they pass out. For our next tour, we'll be taking sundown melatonin gummies - but you can get any variation on these at your local pharmacy or grocery store.
Something else you'll never need until you need it really badly. When rugby players drink alcohol, they tend to snore pretty aggressively. If you've just finished a big day of playing and a big night of drinking, the last thing you want to be doing is stuffing wet toilet paper into your ears to drown out your roommates' sleep-grunting. Last tour we went on, this resulted in one of our players needing to run to the pharmacy to buy an ear ulcer syringe to get his make-shift plug out of his ear canal.
Buy some foam ear plugs. You can get them at the airport. You might not need them, but when you do you'll thank us. On the other hand, if you know yourself to be a snorer, bringing ear plugs to give to your roommates is about the best move you can make. Anyone THAT considerate is a team player for sure.
PRO TIPS FOR TOUR
Strictly-speaking these last two items aren't "things" you should take on rugby tour. But they are strategies we highly recommend you follow. We've heard all the stories of missed flights and lost bags. When it comes to travel, its important to eliminate as many potential errors as possible. Here are two ways to do that.
Don't Check Your Kit Bag
Things get lost when traveling. You can't stop an airline from messing up. But you can try to minimize the impact of lost bags. If you're taking two bags on your rugby tour, we highly recommend that you carry your kit bag on the plane and check the one that doesn't have your boots in it. There is quite literally nothing worse than arriving in a city on tour and having to run around to sports stores looking for some studs because your airline sent your kit bag "international". On the way home, this is less of an issue, but if you haven't played your game yet, keep your boots on you at all times.
Arrive Early, Leave Late
You have to get back for work on Monday and you want the Mrs to give you a bit of a break when you arrive. So you book the Sunday-afternoon 6pm flight, don't you? Error. Huge error. You've just saved yourself $200 on a flight and hotel and caused yourself a whole bunch of other stress. Kickoff will get pushed back an hour and you won't be able to get a cab to the airport. So now you've missed your flight and you're going to end up staying a extra night anyway.
Its very very tempting to take the cheaper, earlier flight home, but you shouldn't do this. The same way you shouldn't expect that the last-minute arrival flight is going to work any better. Any delays and you've missed your game. Take the responsibility out of the hands of the airlines altogether and arrive a day early and leave a day late. If this means taking a day off work, do it. If this means sharing a bed for the Sunday night, do that too. Enjoy your tour, ruggers!