Technology is revolutionising sports across the board. More and more often, athletes, players and coaches are using data to drive performance increases, referees are using new tech to make better decisions during games (although many Premier League fans might argue VAR doesn’t always mean better!), and fans use new methods to consume and enjoy their favourite sports.
Rugby is no exception and technology is increasingly important in the sport. More recently, the ubiquity of smartphones and tablets has meant that new ways for fans to interact with the sport have emerged. Whether it’s streaming games from the other side of the world or listening to weekly rugby podcasts. Here are a few of the ways the game is changing.
Any fan of rugby will appreciate the big impact a referee has on the game. Refs have been mic’d up for a number of years, which helps the casual fan to understand the on-field action, and to heighten the drama in general. But now we are seeing the introduction of a ‘ref cam’ – a lightweight HD camera mounted on the referee’s head or chest. As well as helping officials check decisions from the sidelines, the ref cam also gives broadcasters the chance to show the action from very close range. Of course, officials have already got Hawk-Eye technology to avoid controversial decisions. This allows them to view HD replays from numerous angles instantaneously, with the ability to zoom in and out as they require. This is also used to enforce new safety measures, as we will see later.
In days gone by, the only way to track each of the fifteen players on a side would be to follow them each with a dedicated camera. More recently, GPS tracking devices have been sewn into the kits of teams, which makes it easy to collect performance data on all players simultaneously. GPS is used to log the intensity of movement of each player, and this is especially useful given the different roles on a rugby team. A hooker’s and a winger’s roles are vastly different, so the data collected can help teams log how much time is spent sprinting, walking, jogging, rucking and scrimmaging, and tailor their training programs appropriately. GPS is also used in injury tracking and prevention, to log tackle impacts, amongst other things. This technology is widely used in rugby across Europe.
Concussions are a growing concern in the sport. Rugby has become more physical than ever, players are more powerful than ever, and as a result, serious head injury is a problem. Repeated concussions can lead to chronic traumatic encephalopathy, an incurable, degenerative brain condition. In the past, if a player took a big hit, they would only have to reassure the physio attending them that they were fine to continue. Now we have specialised gum shields which can track the force of an impact and relay it in real-time to a computer. This is crucial in reducing the amount of head, neck and brain injuries to players.
Rugby is an example of a sport where technology is being used for all the right reasons – fair play and good decisions on the pitch, entertainment value for fans, and most importantly, the wellbeing of the players of a physical, full-contact game.