Clever use of match data could be the cat­a­lyst for cre­at­ing a new Eng­land

Analysing moun­tains of data on play­ers is key if Jones wants to max­imise the ef­fi­ciency of his side

The Daily Telegraph - Business - - Sport Rugby Union - Austin Healey

Ed­die Jones used a good anal­ogy this week when dis­cussing how rugby union can make bet­ter use of the moun­tains of data avail­able to teams and play­ers.

He re­ferred to Mako Vu­nipola’s ball-car­ry­ing, ex­plain­ing that Vu­nipola might make 15 car­ries in a game, and each carry takes an av­er­age of three sec­onds. How do we then an­a­lyse what he is do­ing dur­ing the re­main­ing 79 min­utes and 15 sec­onds when he is work­ing off the ball? How do we in­crease his ef­fi­ciency? That is ef­fec­tively what data is for, get­ting the best out of your cur­rent sit­u­a­tion, work­ing with your en­ergy lev­els in the most ef­fi­cient way.

What an in­creased anal­y­sis of data might lead you towards is a more zonal game. You can break the field up into chan­nels, and tell play­ers not to leave their chan­nel. Will Green­wood was one of the best at this; I can­not re­ally re­mem­ber him go­ing into the 15-me­tre chan­nels, he sim­ply pa­trolled the mid­dle part of the field. To save your props’ en­ergy, Mako might only play in the right 15-me­tre chan­nel, with Kyle Sinck­ler only op­er­at­ing in the left one. They will clear out and carry in their re­spec­tive chan­nels, mean­ing they do not need to run across the field.

I have spent a lot of time over the years talk­ing to Brian Ash­ton about play­ing the game with two scrum-halves, split­ting the pitch left and right.

With the proper in­ter­pre­ta­tions now at the ruck, quick­en­ing up the break­down, the thing now slow­ing

In­creased anal­y­sis might lead to a more zonal game. You can break the field up into chan­nels

it down is the ar­rival of the scrum-half to each ruck and their abil­ity to dis­trib­ute the ball. If you have two nines cov­er­ing half of the pitch each, they have less ground to make up and you can in­crease the pace. You would have to lose a winger to field two scrum-halves, and ide­ally one of them would be able to play wing. Maybe I might even come out of re­tire­ment.

The same could be said with the cen­tres, do you copy what hap­pens in rugby league with one play­ing on the left and one on the right? Could you also have two de­fen­sive lines that work in tan­dem?

The anal­y­sis of that data could be re­ally use­ful in shap­ing how the game looks in five, 10, 20 years’ time. It may bring to the fore those ideas that have been around for a while and con­sid­ered to be pipe dreams, if you can prove with num­bers that those ideas work and can make the game more ef­fi­cient.

While I am the big­gest ad­vo­cate for play­ing from the heart and en­joy­ing the emo­tion of the sport, be­cause that is what we all love, I have spent a huge amount of time analysing the game.

Af­ter my A-lev­els I pretty much watched four to five hours of rugby per day. I was not putting it into data and it was not the same as with mod­ern tech­nol­ogy, where you can type in “ruck” and ev­ery sin­gle ruck will pop up on your screen. I was rewind­ing the VHS bit by bit to study peo­ple’s foot­work and the an­gles they were run­ning at.

At BT Sport now, we re­ceive tons of data from our spe­cial­ist and he can give us any­thing we want – line-out suc­cess rates, gain-line me­tres – break­ing it down into play­ers and teams. The clubs get all of this data, but in my opin­ion, no one yet has be­come an ex­pert in un­der­stand­ing the use of the data, or has re­mod­elled their game to make max­i­mum use of it.

Ev­ery­body knows the Money­ball story with the Oak­land Ath­let­ics in base­ball, but that was more about tal­ent recog­ni­tion rather than tal­ent de­vel­op­ment, which is work­ing out where to use your best play­ers at the best times.

If Jones wants to make these changes and adapt the way we play, you have to do it with anal­y­sis. The prob­lem with that is you ini­tially do not have enough data or a big enough sam­ple size to give you a de­fin­i­tive an­swer. You have to go a lit­tle bit on gut feel­ing to be­gin with, which is what Ed­die tends to do, un­til you have 10, 20, 50 games where you can see the ben­e­fits of us­ing a big winger such as Joe Cokanasiga as a No 8 in at­tack­ing scrums, for ex­am­ple.

Those ideas re­quire a spark. Rugby has been uni­form for years, and it is rife now to be bro­ken up a lit­tle bit. Maybe bet­ter use of the data avail­able will be the cat­a­lyst that leads to that hap­pen­ing.

Ap­plied force: Data can help en­sure that Mako Vu­nipola’s power is used to best ef­fect

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