Rugby fan and massage therapist Victoria Mathers got about as close as it’s possible to get to the visiting British and Irish Lions during their recent New Zealand tour.
Victoria has worked in the health and fitness industry for around 30 years – her clinic, Move Well, is in Orewa.
She was taken onto the Lions’ medical team and was one of three therapists who spent three hours massaging 23 players both before and after the two Auckland games.
Victoria works with many NRL teams and rugby union teams, including the Australians, and says the Lions are “the biggest boys” by far. Her role as soft tissue therapist is hard physical work. “Pre-match the players have tight areas, normally their bottoms, calves and hamstrings and, for the props, back, neck and shoulders,” Victoria says. “Most of the massage is done with my whole body and elbow. My massage table is quite large, but the forwards hung off both ends and the sides of it. After three hours you feel as though you’ve done a full day’s work.”
She says the medical team is always grateful if no one is seriously hurt in a game but there is always a big toll on players’ bodies. “A lot of people don’t see how beaten up they are after a match. There’s a lot of bruising, dislocated thumbs and after the first test, one guy had 11 staple stitches in his head. After a game the players get on my table and I ask what hurts. Quite often the answer is ‘everything’.”
Victoria grew up in Bridgend in Wales and some of the Lions, including captain Sam Warburton, also come from that area. Her passion for rugby began when her father played for Bridgend.
Although she’s now a Kiwi, Victoria gave the Lions her full support – including during the test matches.
“I feel honoured to work with the Lions and, even though I shouldn’t be biased, I am Welsh and of course I support the hand that feeds me!”