Rugby Union is becoming increasingly progressive when it comes to sports technology, and this year’s World Cup final will reflect this. On the pitch, Hawk Eye, vision processing technology that uses cameras to track the ball and players, will enable referees to make more accurate decisions and medical teams to immediately assess potential concussion injuries, while in the stands fans will have the option to use audio feeds that provide different levels of commentary based on their knowledge of the game.

However, although less talked about, one of the most exciting developments in the game is the way new data sources will be used by individual teams and the businesses supporting them. Although the most important decisions of the final will be made by coaches and management, the team with the best data will be at a distinct advantage. By understanding how this data can be used and providing the expertise to facilitate this, the squad with the right knowledge will have an upper hand.

Finding the winning margin

As recently as 15 years ago, the only sources of data that rugby teams had to hand was quantitative information such as the number of fouls, kicks and red cards given during a game. This has changed dramatically in recent years, with all of the teams involved having a trove of structured and unstructured data available to extract insight from.

GPS technology installed on each player’s shirt during training and on the pitch will provide in-depth information on speed, distance travelled and position. In addition, each team will use optimised cameras to analyse each aspect of the game. By combining this data, coaches and players will be able to gain a much better understanding of tactics. By tracking the average distance of a player’s kick, for example, coaches will be able to advise team members on the most likely place to catch the ball the next time around. Insight like this is invaluable; a large number of games at a professional level are now decided by the smallest of margins, meaning that having this intelligence can be the difference between winning and losing.

Of course, in order for the analysis of this data to be useful, it needs to be presented in a way that both players and coaches can understand and access. To give an example at club level, Bath Rugby have engaged IT Services company Getronics to provide their players, coaches and analysts with access to information through iPads, enabling each of them access to tailored reports on their performance in games and training. Since the squad are always on the move, this access has proved essential in empowering each player to take ownership of his own development and success.

Additionally, to get value from this data, architects and integration engineers are proving to be essential. Data architects create the infrastructure to support data collection and analysis and the integration engineers allow disparate sources of data to be combined and compared. With data spanning across both structured and unstructured forms, the ability to work with both relational and non-relational databases is vital. Equally, since being on the move is part and parcel of the rugby world, much of this data is stored in the cloud and therefore cloud management skills are also required.

Off the field

Rugby aside, the World Cup has given a huge boost to business with EY estimating it will add £1bn in total to the UK economy. With today’s rugby fans being the most connected of all time, the brands who are able to make the most of the data surrounding the final will be the ones that win the proverbial silverware. By fully understanding how fans are engaging with content both in the stadium and at home, marketers will be in a better position to reach the right people with the right message at the right time. With additional information such as team preference, gender and online behaviours all being available for analysis, the business opportunities for those involved are significant.

When the players take to the pitch at the weekend, it will be the IT professionals behind the scenes who will be just as important in determining the outcome of the match. Aside from being the third biggest sporting event in the world, the World Cup has highlighted the increasing role of data knowledge and IT in sport.

By Tim Patrick-Smith, CIO Getronics