Professional rugby now uses GPS to track its athletes: here’s why

Professional rugby now uses GPS to track its athletes: here's why

Rugby is an age-old sport that has seen its fair share of change throughout the generations; for example, a try in 1890 would have scored a team a measly one point, whereas today a try is worth five points.

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Like most sports, professional rugby has been influenced in recent years by the introduction of technology. Television match officials (TMO) can review contentious incidents with multi-angled camera replays and super-slow-motion replays, allowing the referee to make the correct call.

Technology is also being used to analyse players’ performances. How well a player performed during a game of rugby was previously the subjective decision of a coach; now, a player’s every move is analysed and charted using a global positioning system (GPS).

GPS tracking

Nearly every international and professional club side in Europe tracks their players using GPS. Small GPS devices are placed inside a vest that is woven into the player’s shirts. Analysts can then monitor every yard a player has run, how many tackles and carries a player has made, how many times they broke into a sprint, and even monitor the player’s heart rate.

The data provided can give vital information to coaches during games and training sessions. If a player’s stats drop significantly it may be due to fatigue or injury. The information can also be used to make decisions on which players are the fittest and which players are best suited to certain positions.

Changing how coaches approach training

Bradford Bulls rugby league side was the first rugby team to track its players with GPS in 2010. Since then, GPS has changed the way in which rugby coaches approach team selections, match tactics and training; for example, if a player’s stats are dropping during a training session, it may be due to them being worked too hard. A coach can then devise a rugby drill that is less strenuous, allowing the player a chance to recoup stamina and fitness. Integrating coaching tools such as can provide coaches with the ability to devise new training methods and review their effectiveness.

One of the biggest improvements GPS has brought to the game of professional rugby is the advance in player welfare. GPS will inform a physio if a player is fatigued, helping them to prevent serious injuries.

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