Cradling three vials of magic potion, a hydration mask and a sleeping pill, the All Blacks' meticulous preparation for their end of year tour has been apparent from the moment they boarded their flight north.
Travel has become as much a part of a professional rugby team's routine as lacing up the boots and negating its effects is a major priority in Scotland this week where coach Steve Hansen will look to maximise the remaining seven days before their first match.
And so the red, blue and yellow coloured vials, handed out and dutifully consumed before, during and after the gruelling 28-hour journey to Edinburgh, have been introduced to the All Blacks' arsenal for the first time this season.
"The best way of describing it is we are using a hydration drink to mitigate known stresses of long haul travel," team doctor Deb Robinson said.
"They drink one when they take off, one mid-flight and one when they land, which has a little bit of caffeine to give them a bit of a kick when they arrive.
"They still need to drink plenty of water. The air in the plane is very dry and you do dehydrate and that's why they wear the masks.
"We've used those for quite a long time. They have a little coil that absorbs the moisture you breathe out and remoisturises the air as you breathe it back in again."
Robinson is coy on exactly what products the All Blacks are using, but a quick web search reveals Flyhidrate is an all natural Kiwi-made innovation.
The concept came about when nutritionists with close links to the airline industry approached scientists and researchers at the University of Otago.
It is claimed the mixture of real fruit extracts helps mitigate the effects of radiation, magnified at altitude, and increases blood flow.
The All Blacks are usually at the cutting edge when it comes to innovation and Robinson ensures that applies to the health of the squad.
Her philosophy in combating travel is borne of an immense library of knowledge and experience over seven seasons with the national team.
She says there are two key elements to consider in order to ensure the players' bodies and minds recover in the shortest possible time.
Travel "fatigue" is effectively jet lag, while travel "stress" is the effect on the body of being stuck in a seat breathing dry, recycled air for, effectively, two days.
To combat the former, Robinson judiciously allocates sleeping pills to those who want them and advises they sleep most during the second leg of the flight.
Flying business class helps large bodies like lock Brodie Retallick stretch out, but the players were advised to walk, stretch and shower when they stopped over in Hong Kong.
Robinson says all the All Blacks' measures are "optional," that every individual is different, and that no matter what is done, the human body and mind will still be affected by such long travel for several days.
Jet lag can affect hand-eye co-ordination and decision making for several days "because their body clock thinks it's the middle of the night".
The job of getting bodies ticking again and then peaking for Monday's test falls to fitness trainer Nic Gill whose job started with a "blow out" session, including light-hearted games of football and touch rugby followed by a pool session.
The carefully planned details of what Robinson and Gill do this week will be crucial to ensuring Hansen has the best chance of getting all 32 of his tour party on the field in the opening two tests against Scotland and Italy.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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