New Zealand All Blacks balances data analytics with 'living in moment' of match

The organisation has turned to SAS for help with tackling data.

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New Zealand Rugby has been focused on leading, supporting, growing, and promoting the game of rugby union since 1892 -- a time when sport was not synonymous with technology.

The organisation has direct relationships with its members, including all 26 Provincial Unions, Investec Super Rugby clubs, and commercial and charity partners, as well as international rugby bodies and stakeholders, such as the New Zealand government.

At the heart of all of that are the players.

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According to performance analytics manager Jason Healy, NZ Rugby now finds itself in a pretty dynamic environment when it comes to its use of technology. And while he told ZDNet it's a "whole lot of work" for an organisation like NZ Rugby to provide its teams with some "pretty cool tools" to keep advancing their performances on the field, the ability to quickly analyse data for insights is critical moving forward.

SAS has been working with NZ Rugby and the All Blacks for seven seasons.

The relationship dates back to 2013, when NZ Rugby adopted SAS Visual Analytics to replace a spreadsheet-based reporting process. Since then, the ability for rugby's national sporting body to take advantage of player, team, match, and competitor data has come a long way.

NZ Rugby collects and manages data for all national teams including the All Blacks on the SAS platform, as well as those playing in the international Investec Super Rugby competition and the national provincial competition, the Mitre 10 Cup.

With its SAS platform in tow, Healy said the organisation have access to all sorts of different information, with a focus on match performance data -- data that's collected within the white lines of the game either in a real-time environment, or post-game through a data warehousing supplier.

"We look at all of the actions of the teams and the players on the field, the ball, the referee -- all those types of data -- they all get invested into the visual analytics platform, and then depending on the user preference, that data is essentially visualised in a way that aligns with either the game strategy that they're trying to measure or they're actually looking for particular insights or filling knowledge gaps that they don't currently have," Healy explained.

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While Healy claims the tools at the disposal of an organisation like NZ Rugby are game-changing, he's still on the fence when it comes to just how much of a presence technology, such as data capture and analytics, should play on the field.  

"I still feel there's a little bit of living in the moment -- accept the fact that the players on the field are controlling the game. It's not us on the sideline as data-collectors or coaches or analysts that really have an impact, because we don't see, hear, or feel what happens on the field in the same way that players do, so some of that's got to be left up to them," he said.

"It's a tool or a platform that sits in the background and really plays that supportive role to bring evidence to conversations that either are being had or need to be had, so it's not making decisions for us, it's informing decisions -- providing that context.

"The players are good enough to be able to take the pieces of information provided to them and then use that in a way they see fit on the field -- they still have to move their hands, feet, the ball, etc."

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