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How GPS Technology Is Changing Rugby
Rugby Union is hitting the U.S. by storm this November when the U.S. takes on world cup champions, New Zealand All Blacks in Soldier Field, Chicago. The All Blacks just went through an undefeated season (even though my home country, Ireland, ran them close) almost making them certain to be ranked one of the best Rugby teams of all time. In the States Rugby is growing greatly and even though the U.S. team will struggle with the formidable All Blacks I expect the USA rugby team to be one for the future as its popularity is increasing.
Inevitably, when one of the world’s best Rugby teams plays at any NFL stadium comparisons between the two sports will be drawn. There are many similarities between NFL and Rugby which makes the transition for players between both games accessible and practical for athletes and fans alike. Rugby Union is making an effort to expand its roots to different parts of the world and the game at Soldier Field in November is a prime opportunity.
Rugby has evolved in various parts of the world and it’s growth can be attributed to emphasis on integral components of the sport: skill development strength and conditioning analysis of the game and biomechanics. It’s this holistic approach that has proven that each practice is warranted and each game is played with highly trained and skilled athletes.
Applied Biomechanics is an area in sport for enhancing performance. One specific aspect of biomechanics that is emerging as a useful tool in sport is Global Positioning Data (GPS). It is particularly useful in Rugby Union as it is a dynamic contact sport requiring players to perform a variety of open and closed skills. Bradford Bulls (English Rugby team) were the first Rugby team to use GPS tracking in January 2010. Since it’s initial establishment, GPS Tracking has flourished consistently. It is currently utilized by the majority of professional European Rugby teams.
Rugby union consists of fifteen players; eight forwards and seven backs. Each athlete exists on a wide physiological spectrum consisting of a multi-sprint and multi-activity sport where players alternate between bouts of intense efforts such as sprints, tackles, rucks and mauls as well as periods of walking and standing. Each position requires specific demands and skills, therefore requiring position specific training. The International Rugby Board (IRB) is now making efforts to have less set pieces and greater scoring opportunities in Rugby in an effort to enhance the reputation of the sport. As a result the audience is in for a treat due to the increased scoring opportunities and increased pace among the players.
Prior to the introduction of GPS, time motion analysis was the original way to analyze Rugby. However, it required a cameraman to follow the same player for the entire game. For example, if time motion analysis was used in a rugby setting they would need fifteen camera men to use and record the data and a further three analysts assessing the data using a specific computer program. Time motion analysis usually breaks the data into the following categories: standing still, walking, jogging, cruising, sprinting, utility (shuffling side to side), jumping, rucking/mauling and scrimmaging.
However, GPS tracking is the next technological step forward and in it’s informed development has equaled and now surpassed the benefits of time motion analysis. With GPS tracking players wear a small device sewn into a vest under their playing jerseys which collects information about heart rate and position on the field. GPS is used specifically for analyzing physiological demands on players, fatigue during game, and is used for rehabilitation and injury prevention.
As previously mentioned, the physical demands of a rugby player exist on a very wide spectrum. When you take a typical hooker and a winger for instance, their whole physiological profile is completely different. Thus, their demands during the game are different. Typically a hooker will clear rucks, scrimmage as well as short carries around the field, while a winger will go long periods without a ball and then perform fast sprints, with the fastest players getting up to 21mph. GPS allows coaches and trainers to tailor their training to specific performances by each different player.
Not only does GPS help coaches monitor players during games, it also allows them to monitor what is being done in training. Munster’s sport scientist Will Douglas says, “GPS helps us to manage load in training. We monitor their thresholds to keep players fresh for games.” During training and matches, data feeds are monitored from the touchline in real time. This information is invaluable to coaches as they can pick the optimal performing team at any given time.
GPS warrants a pivotal place in any club. It’s strengths are visible to players coaches and sports scientists. In turn the spectators viewing of quality rugby has improved. However, GPS needs to develop a more economic battery which is compatible to the GPS software as there are some games that go on longer than four hours. There is a need for the GPS to become sturdier for protection from weather and other on field interferences. This will prevent data being lost and corrupted.
Another drawback with traditional GPS tracking is that it was hard to collect the data in stadiums or indoors. But now there is a company called Catapult Sports that can use GPS software indoors. Technology called Catapult ClearSky, uses triangulation by utilizing satellites, called nodes, inside a stadium. These nodes are small boxes that are wireless, portable, and easy to install around the perimeter of a playing area. The ClearSky indoor sports has access to the same GPS-related data that has proven so beneficial in football and rugby competitions around the world, as well as covering outdoor sports that are played in stadiums with a roof or limited access to satellites.
Overall, the advances in GPS have led to a greater understanding of many professional sports. Technology has spread to the NFL and NBA to help coaches prepare better and players perform at higher levels. GPS has also increased the quality of Rugby and improved the welfare of players. Among the improvements are increased fitness levels reduction of injuries and a more informed understanding of Rugby union. GPS informs the coaches of the player’s performance depicting the level of fatigue or possible injury. In anticipation of the game at Soldier Field we will see the efficient use of substitutes at crucial times which is a direct result of the live data feed transmitted to the coaching staff. The World cup champions are sure to provide an entertaining and competitive exhibition in Soldier Field.
After using the SPT GPS, the data is uploaded and the results are published online.
Try the system for yourself below with this demo environment.