The Harlequins FC squad have been put through their paces by the British Army’s Gurkhas, in preparation for the battles of the new Gallagher Premiership season.
The 72-hour intense military training camp was delivered by soldiers from The Second Battalion, The Royal Gurkha Rifles (2RGR), based in Shorncliffe, near Folkestone in Kent, to challenge the elite athletes physically, mentally and psychologically.
Billy Millard, Director of Rugby for the professional rugby union club whose home ground is the Twickenham Stoop, south-west London, said: “We’ve talked about getting the boys out of the comfort of day in, day out training, and looked at doing this for a long time."
The instructors have been impressed with how the Harlequins have acquitted themselves." Captain Ed Hicks,
The Royal Gurkha Rifles (2RGR)
“It’s about building resilience, making memories, and putting them in really uncomfortable situations, without breaking them."
“Just knowing that they can push themselves out of their comfort zone, knowing how good they’ve got it in their normal training routine … is going to be huge for us long term.”
The Gurkhas who have a reputation of being amongst the finest and bravest of soldiers in the world, subjected the rugby players and staff to a full range of military fitness and command tasks.
The military training methods focused on the Army’s approach to physical and mental resilience and included a battle physical training (PT) session, casualty drags, log and stretcher races, a 15 kilograms weighted march, hill runs, intervals and partner exercises.
On their first night they participated in a patrol exercise, fieldcraft training, cooked their rations and put up their basha shelters to sleep under the rainy skies of Kent.
Issued with military kit, to look and feel the part and cope with the conditions they would be tested in, Captain Ed Hicks, 2RGR Operations Officer, said: “The instructors have been impressed with how the Harlequins have acquitted themselves."
“This experience challenged them physically but also forced them to dig deeper mentally, building on all thing’s mental resilience, exposing them to mental hardship."
He continued:“Their fitness is completely different, and we’ve seen that this week, clearly when these guys are stood next to a Gurkha soldier there is quite some difference."
"Our guys can run for days with a weight on their backs whereas the Harlequins are the elite end of rugby, built and trained for short sharp sprints and maximum power.”
I think I’ll cheer much harder for the army in the future, I’ve always had respect for the army but that respect has grown massively." Stephan Lewies,
“The initial arduous battle PT, took a lot of them by surprise, you saw the moment that required them to mentally switch from we are not here on a ‘jolly’, but here to learn and get something out of it. Not quite breaking them on the first day, but testing them.”
The training camp was an opportunity to learn about the parallels between professional sport and the military, build on leadership, communication and teamwork and share that knowledge.
Stephan Lewies, Captain of the Harlequins, said: “One of the objectives was to see how far we could push ourselves, what we’ve learnt from the military is that often when you think you can’t go anymore just take that next step and build on that momentum."
“Physically it was tough, my body is a bit fatigued and sore, I’m mentally tired but you learn a lot about yourself, which is most important. You learn how far to push your body, or you learn it’s limits or that you can go a lot further."
“For us as a group, this experience has been incredible, it tested us, for a lot of boys it will be something they will remember for the rest of their lives. For some, it will be one of the toughest things they’ve done."
"But all of us will remember it as the moment we went through hardship together as a team but ultimately, we are incredibly grateful to have learnt from the Gurkhas."
“I’m sure we will encounter some tough times in the season, and we can reflect on this and go back where we’ve struggled together and use the lessons in the games.”