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Will Carling: How technology is changing our experience of rugby

By 1st February 2020 February 24th, 2020 No Comments

The first in a series of six weekly blogs from rugby legend Will Carling, written exclusively for Broadcast Sport

Last year, for the very first time during the 2019 Guinness Six Nations Championship, fans had access to never-before-seen insights into the great game of rugby through new on-screen dynamic stats powered by Amazon Web Services (AWS). These stats provided fans with greater understanding into a range of key in-game events, including scrum analyses, play patterns, try origins, team trends, and more.

Back in my day, of course, it was very different. Completely different! The only stats we had were up on the scoreboard for everyone to see. How things have changed!

In 2000, the Rugby Football Union (RFU) introduced the Television Match Official (TMO). The TMO is someone who watches the match action, usually in a truck outside the ground. They watch multiple camera angles of an incident and pass on information to the match referee to help make more accurate decisions. Since this time, the TMO has become an integral part of matches and in 2015, Hawk-Eye’s enhanced video replay was introduced into rugby for the first time. Rugby continues to welcome the use of technology to positively evolve the game, and it has since permeated every aspect of the sport.

Player performance tracking, for example, has been adopted to help improve training and match day execution. This has delivered a deeper understanding of players’ fitness and health, faster and more powerful players, and, ultimately, a more exciting and accurate sport. I am proud to be part of a sport with an open mind to technology, and a sport that embraces innovation for the benefit of not only the players, but the fans too.

Technology has permeated every aspect of the sport

What the sport has achieved to date is good, but to be honest, we’re only scratching the surface of what more advanced technologies like data analytics and machine learning can do for our beloved sport – and especially for rugby fans. This year, the Guinness Six Nations Championship is taking big strides to help showcase some of these advanced technologies, working with AWS to launch five new on-screen dynamic statistics that will offer even deeper insights, to allow fans to better understand the action, than before.

20/20 vision for this year’s Championship These five new stats will join the seven launched during the 2019 Championship and will let us accurately, and in real-time, track crucial components of the game, such as placekicking, tackles, and the always crucial ruck plays.

The five new stats are:

  • Kick Predictor – Showing the probability of a kicker successfully scoring a penalty kick or try conversion
  • Visits to the 22 – This stat will highlight the number of occasions a team has entered the opposition’s 22-metre area and how many points they have scored with the entries
  • Ruck and Turnover Locations – A heat map of the pitch will highlight the action areas of each team
  • Dominant Tackles – This will show the defensive strength and structure of the teams
  • Power Game – This will show where a team is dominant, where a team is lacking, and potentially where the match is being won or lost

These stats will make the sport more accessible to all fans, particularly those who are new to the game, and younger fans, while giving greater depth of understanding to seasoned rugby fans.

These new advanced stats will also give broadcast commentators and pundits an easy and visual way to show and explain to fans the most critical moments in a game and where it was won and lost. While rugby appears to be a simple sport to play – you run, you pass the ball, and you tackle – it is in fact incredibly complex.

These stats will make the sport more accessible to all fans

I think these stats are invaluable, because they will give fans insights into the habits, structures and strategies that create the building blocks for successful teams. And what’s really great about these stats is that they don’t impact on your viewing time or hold up the game. They add information and insight right there and in real-time, which is why I think fans will love them.

Sit back and enjoy the show

Each week, over the next five weeks, I’ll be taking a closer look at each of the new stats, and how they are used in the games in more detail so do check back to get my thoughts on the games and the insights I’ve gleaned from these news stats.

With every team brimming with talent and ferocity, I can’t wait to see the how the Championship unfolds. These new stats will give fresh insights and knowledge to fans and pundits alike as the greatest rugby competition in the world gets under way. There’s no question that, with these new statistics powered by AWS, rugby just got a whole lot more interesting and accessible for every fan.

Here’s to a really great Guinness Six Nations Championship.

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