Ask The Expert

How Technology Is Influencing Rugby Union

The Sport Review speaks exclusively to Saracens high performance director Phil Morrow

Saracens kicking coach Dan Vickers
Saracens kicking coach Dan Vickers (Photo: Saracens)

We had an exclusive chat with Saracens high performance director Phil Morrow to discuss the growing influence of technology in rugby union.

How does technology influence the sport of rugby?

Technology has allowed us to monitor the players, enabling us to ask informed questions about how best to prepare the players as individuals and the team as a collective. The information we gather from GPS devices, heart-rate monitors, video analysis, our force platforms and other gym based monitoring devices allows us to tailor the players individual development plans better. We know more about the demands of the game and how our players respond to these demands; how a player recovers, how best to develop them physically, and if their development plan is improving their game performance. Technology allows us to collect, store and analyse the information in such a way that it is immediate. This allows the coaching team to make better decisions faster about the game and training.

What does the agreement with Garmin bring to Saracens?

Our relationship allows us to do some great educational work with our young players around the importance of recovery. One of the functions of the Garmin vivosmart activity tracker is that it not only monitors activity but also provides a sleep marker. This gives the player an indication of how they are sleeping and allows the sports science and medical teams to assess the effectiveness of the education program on maximising sleep. Sleep is one of our core recovery principles, and helping the academy players understand how to maximise their chances of a good nights sleep is vital for their recovery and physical development.

Garmin has also provided Saracens with a wind monitoring device that attaches to the goal post and connects with a smart watch worn by our kicking coach. This is great for kicking practice as it provides the coach with accurate and immediate information regarding the wind direction and speed. It’s important for the coach and players to understand the impact that the wind strength has on different kicks and techniques. This helps improve kick accuracy come game day.

As the Performance Director, it is my job to make sure that the information we gather is accurate and useable. Because technology has improved so fast, there is a danger of information overload. It is important that we understand the information we gather and how best to use it to get the best out of each player and the team.

Saracens star Alex Goode Photo: Saracens

How does technology aid training?

We have a pretty set training week in the lead into a game and there will be the core areas of the game that we will practice every week. But the technology will give us an indication of how intense the game was for an individual player. This information comes from the video analysts and from the sports scientists. We will then do some basic measures for the players on the first training day to see how well they have recovered. From this we can set what each player does at the start of the week, both on the field and in the gym. Having this individual approach allows us to get the most out of each player so that they are as prepared as they can be each week.

During the pre-season we are able to set our conditioning session targets based on our GPS data. Each player can have their individual targets for the session related to what they need to do during matches. We can then track how they are progressing through the preseason and make any adjustments to their programs each week to make sure they arrive at the start of the season prepared.

How does technology aid injury and recovery?

We use technology at several stages of a players’ rehabilitation post injury.

During initial stages when a player is trying to regain strength, our force platform information tells us if a players’ strength and power has returned to pre injury levels. We then use GPS devices and heart rate monitoring during the players return to running progressions to track progress. We plan a gradual buildup of speed and intensities so that the player can return better than they were before. We get live feedback during sessions so that we can control the speeds and volumes in the rehab sessions to match the players’ recovery stage. These markers give the medics, S&C coaches and the players confidence that they are ready to return to action.

The rugby calendar is a busy one, we kick off the season at Allianz Park on October 17th against Sale and we keep going without a free weekend for hopefully 33 weeks. This is on the back of a 14 week preseason development period. We have some huge games along the way in the European Champions Cup, which for us kicks off against the French rugby giants, Toulouse on 14th November at Allianz park.

Trying to maximise our players recovery throughout this long season is a real challenge. Technology and monitoring allows us to plan our training manipulating the intensity depending on the week we have. We will mix up the amount of running we do in training to make sure we get the right balance of preparation for the game, physical development and recovery periods for each player. Technology allows us to monitor this and make sure we get the right balance. We can also make adjustments to the plan, depending on the intensity of a specific game. Tracking and GPS technology gives us this information for each player and we adapt their training week accordingly.

What does the future of technology in rugby look like?

Technology changes so fast, who knows what the future holds. The partnership that we have with Garmin helps us continue to improve and develop in line with the world’s best technology advancements. As technology units become smaller and more reliable we will learn more about how each individual player adapts and copes with the demands of the game. This information will allow us get the most out of each player, and hopefully reduce the chances of injury. It will be interesting to see how the in-game technology shapes any tactical decisions around style of play or substitutions. The key will not be the information available but rather how this gets interpreted and used by the coaches.

For more information, visit Garmin.

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