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The new technology that has changed rugby forever

The Rugby World Cup is back after a 4 years absence and here at Xist4 we’ve been keeping a keen eye on proceedings. With both English and Welsh supporters in the office, tensions are bound to be high at times (especially with both countries in the ‘Group of Death’) but the return of the competition has been a daily topic of conversation around the team. With England 2015 well underway; we’ve decided to take a closer look at how the game has changed over the years and how technological advances have reshaped the way the game is played, governed and watched.

As story suggests; rugby came about when Rugby School boy William Webb Ellis decided to pick up a ball and run with it during a game of football. Over the years; the world developed teams and players that would compete in Union rules that created folk heroes and memorable moments that have been etched into the history of many nations. The All Black Haka, Wilkinson’s drop kick in Sydney, Mandela and Pienaar uniting a nation in South Africa and ‘that try’ by Gareth Edwards in Barbarian colours…. Just to name a few. Over a century of rugby has produced its moments and it’s often easy to forget that the World Cup competition wasn’t created until 1987 – fairly late on if you were to place it on the rugby history timeline. But even in this short amount of time a lot of technological influences have changed the game.

TMO

With its popularity, rugby is a regular feature on TV; the last World Cup in New Zealand 2011 attracted an estimated 4 billion viewers in total. So as you can imagine, television cameras are all over a stadium during game day. Match officials and referees have taken the advantage of this extensive coverage with the introduction of the Television Match Official (or TMO). The nature of the game can leave a lot of important decisions to 50/50 calls or result in missed decisions due to officials not seeing an occurrence. The option to ‘go upstairs’ and replay parts of the match to award correct decisions or reverse incorrect ones has changed the game. The infamous 99 call of the Lions team in the 1970s, in which all the players would get involved in a fight in order avoid a single player getting singled out by the referee for fighting, would be unfolded by the TMO decision.

‘Ref Cam’

Following on from TMO technology; modern day referees are usually hooked up to small microphones to allow television audiences to hear what referees are saying to both players on the pitch and TMOs up in the stands. This is a handy device for both supporters and commentators alike. With televisions views on the rise, and the development of smaller and stronger cameras, referees have cameras on their kit so supporters can see a first person view of what the referee sees. There have been occasions where this technology has not gone to plan… Referee Nigel Owens famously had to resort to communicating with his TMO via his iPhone when his microphone and camera broke during a ‘Try or No Try’ decision.

Training

The old days of training a few times a week followed by pints and cigarettes over a pub lunch are long gone - Strength and Conditioning coaches unsure that all players and performing to the top of their abilities. Diet regulations ensure players are fuelled with the right energy sources and nourishment to perform at the top. GPS tracking devices allow players and coaches to measure performance and show where improvements can be made. A famously used method by the Welsh Rugby team for their 2011 preparations were the dreaded Cryotherapy sessions where players are placed in a room at -120 C in order to repair muscle damage from intense training facilities at a quicker rate. In their most recent preparations for this year’s tournament, the WRU also brought in Altitude pods to allow the team to gain the benefits of high altitude living at a lower altitude.

Kit

Rugby teams of old were often kitted in heavy bagged shirts with shorts and leather boots. Today’s team of players were kit that’s developed and tested down to the final stitch. Gripper technology helps handling of the ball, a dynamic fit prevents the opposition taking a player down by his shirt rather than his body, thermal laying means one can be warmer/cooler to adapt to conditions and GPS trackers fitted onto the back help in the coaches training and analysis of the game. The future of wearable technology could see further developments for the Japanese World Cup 2019 – think of concussion management sensors for scrumcaps and muscle performance rugby socks… there are even rumours of gum-shields that analyst hydration…

28 September 2015

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