Op-Ed: Behind the Scenes of the Final Lions Test

12 Aug 2021

By: Sport Industry Group

Nick Morris, Director of Digital Media, Fifty Digital, has been embedded within the British and Irish Lions camp on their Tour of South Africa. He has documented his experiences, and the work he's been doing behind the scenes of a unique Lions tour - and one which ended in heartbreak for the tourists.

Read Nick's account of the first Test here.


Morne Steyn. It had to be him didn’t it. The man whose penalty back in 2009 was a dagger through the Lions’ hearts, did it again in the dying moments of the Third Test. Different year, same outcome. Gutting. 

Despite the disappointing ending, this tour has been a rollercoaster of emotions and unique experiences. Undoubtedly it is the high point of my career to date at Fifty Digital and a key chapter in the lives of everyone fortunate enough to tour. 

It’s been a hugely memorable eight weeks that I won’t forget anytime soon. 

Our kitman Rala, sums it up best when he says, “Not even Agatha Christie or James Joyce could use words to describe it.” He’s right. So was Warren Gatland in the changing rooms on Saturday night, when he said we should all be proud of what was achieved on and off the field, including even getting the matches on despite the storm clouds of COVID. It took great discipline, sacrifice and effort to maintain our bio-secure bubble. 

From my perspective, I have learnt a great deal on this tour. It’s challenged me and Fifty Digital in ways we never imagined, and we drew on every ounce of live sports experience during this period. 

Matches being re-arranged at the last minute during the COVID troubles in Johannesburg stress-tested our systems, but we made it through. Late withdrawals with injuries also tested our social and digital contingency plans with graphics and videos needing to be updated within minutes. Again, the team passed with flying colours.

I have also learnt that Plan A rarely gets actioned, Plan B sometimes, and Plan C often becomes the norm when you’re exposed to the challenges of live sport in a constantly shifting landscape. 

Alongside this, there’s always the judgement call of editorial discretion.

We had the option to go live on TikTok immediately post-match. However, when the whistle blew, I personally felt gutted and was slumped in my seat pitchside as the ecstatic South Africans ran by us and onto the field. Looking around, it felt wrong to go live. Raw emotion and authenticity are social media gold, but it should never be done in an intrusive way which exposes individuals. With the full support of TikTok, we cancelled this approach and I filmed some short clips from the guard of honour and handshakes. It felt right as we needed to give the disappointment time to settle. Similarly, our photographers and videographers quickly gathered enough content to build the narrative but then withdrew. 

Rugby is about respect, so it was great to see informal chats between Lions staff / players and the Springboks in the tunnel area. I caught up with a few of the Springboks who I knew from my Barbarians work. Everyone was in good spirits as we reflected on a crazy few months, as well as retelling stories from the Baa Baas Tour which they said was their 'first trophy win together' and where it all started for the World Champions. 

Sorry.

It’s these moments, despite COVID’s limits on the occasion, which make rugby so special. I did ask when they were all retiring because as an England fan and a Lions staff member, I’m getting tired of being beaten by them now! 

Overall, I am proud of our content which has delivered record breaking engagement and growth. From Inside the Bubble to our TikTok partnership and the immersive off-field content among many other things, it’s been the most social and digital Lions Tour ever. We achieved what we set out to digitally so have laid a strong platform for the next four years. 

I am proud of the Lions team I worked with who gave it everything and the team back-at-base at Fifty Digital who produced some stunning assets, under tight deadlines and high pressure. And most of all, I am thankful for having the opportunity to experience it all. 

When I search for words to describe the tour, I always come back to this collection – privilege, excitement, unique, special, surreal, challenging, hard, bonkers, and memorable. 

Despite the challenges of the bubble, would I do it all again? In a heartbeat. Just without the result this time please…