Will Technology Become a Defining Factor in Rugby Games?

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No matter what humankind does, technology will play a role. Even from the days of stone tools and wooden clubs, humans have used tech to advance their standing in evolution. We are fortunate in this era that we have advanced tools that can perform multiple tasks and evaluate situations almost instantly.

Tech has penetrated almost every facet of our lives so it shouldn’t be a surprise that we are implementing computers and data collection into sport. Very recently, rugby clubs began using impact force collection data to assess concussion and head trauma. With the data collected, doctors and medics can better understand head injuries.

In an effort to better understand the sport of rugby, there have been discussions of what technology clubs can use to gather data and use it to improve game plans and player performances. This may be a person counting the amount of times a team or player passes or the GPS tracker found on the back of some jerseys.

The real time data collection helps coaches to plan in-game changes and player substitutions, but has the reliance on data taken the human intuition out of the game? Is rugby headed into the statistical realm of baseball where a player’s overall numbers are more of a headline than the player themselves?

The Guardian (newspaper publication) recently held a panel discussion involving some of rugby’s biggest names including Jeremy Guscott, Nick Mallett and Maggie Alphonsi. Each panel member gave their input into the discussion about data collection and I believe that Mallett put it best. As a former coach of South Africa and Italy, he went on to say, “As a coach you follow the ball a lot and by necessity you are not looking at your team and the opposition. The detail and information from technology is absolutely vital.”

His point is that the man in coach’s box cannot see every part of the game and needs a peripheral source to fully understand the game and what is happening around the field. With the data that is collected, individual players can be assessed and later coached better. The problem of the reliance of data is the interpretation of the numbers. Simply put, nothing can be better than human intuition.

Nick Millman, the Accenture representative on the panel went on to say that human experience and interpretation is very important when looking at data, “You actually need the insight and experience to look at what the data is telling you and use it to advise you rather than just blindly following it. Otherwise we could all be international rugby coaches.”

The thing with data is that it cannot tell what a player would do with ball in hand. There are some players on the field that are unpredictable and only by playing with them would the team understand what they intend to do. Data collection cannot decipher a person’s intentions so cannot be the only tool that a coach would rely on. With that said, technology has become a part of the coach’s toolbox and will help them better understand how to correct problems and tweak players’ performances.

As stated before, the human element would never by fully eliminated from a sporting role, but the use of technology can only enhance their ability to be better. The best coaches and players still use their brains and experience to out-think and out-play their opponents and it isn’t often that you see data being used as the defining factor in a victory or loss. Games and tournaments will play heavily on the psychology of the teams and will expand the degree of the unknown. Data and statistics play very little in a player’s big game temperament. The fear of technology becoming an overbearing power is mostly unfounded as teams would find a balance in the use of it and the human input.