Hidden tactics for players of every age – rugby meets analytics

It’s December 1st 2012, and I can’t believe what I’ve just seen, perched high in the South stand at Twickenham. Yes, sometimes the All Blacks let their opponents run up some early points, but then, as always, they’d thought “we’d better play some rugby here”, and just like that England’s fifteen-point lead was cut to one.

Here’s what happened next… Chris Author profile

England stepped up in response, Chris Ashton flew over the try line with a characteristic swan dive to mark a record win, and I suspect we helped the RFU to record bar takings as well!

It’s December 2nd, 2012, 10:33am. I’m telling a crestfallen six-year-old that it doesn’t matter what Chris Ashton did, the laws are clear; under Sevens players must stay on their feet when scoring a try. I’ve already warned the players twice, and this time I’m not allowing the try. This mini-rugby festival is only three minutes old, and all around me on other pitches, I can see the same story repeating.

Sometimes it’s obvious what has caused a particular outcome (thanks, Mr Ashton!) but at other times it’s not so clear cut. New Zealand finished ahead on both possession and territory, but get into the details and England were ahead on turnovers, tackles missed and penalties conceded. Maybe that made all the difference?

As I head off to watch England open this year’s Six Nations campaign against France with my fellow coaches, there’s bound to be plenty of discussion about what will swing the result, and those 2012 match stats join others in the IBM TryTracker to tell me that if England beat 18 defenders and steal 4 balls from set play, they’ll be well on their way to victory, and I’ll hopefully look like a rugby guru to my peers!

When I get back to work, the analytics projects I’m involved in won’t have the same level of glamour but they are in so many ways more important.

We’re helping hospitals to predict from historical weather, air quality and clinical data what sort of patients they’re likely to see in coming weeks, so they can react accordingly and improve patient care.

We’re working with local authorities to help them to sort through masses of data to find patterns which will can identify children at risk of abuse and allow them to intervene much sooner.

Analytics technology won’t take the place of a doctor or social worker any more than it will that of an England rugby player, but if it can help all three better focus their efforts into areas most likely to deliver a positive outcome, I’ll be happy and so will many others.

Learn more about analytics technology and the how the IBM TryTracker is helping England Rugby during the Six Nations.