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The new technology which could prove crucial to the Lions’ hopes in South Africa

Lions South Africa

Introducing the Lions’ new technology that is helping them to optimise player performance.

The British and Irish Lions are currently the only sports team in the world that are using a new data analysis platform, which aggregates information from multiple devices worn by players in real-time.

The system called Player.Connect, which has been launched by Vodafone, allows player performance data to be viewed, analysed and acted upon instantly, even during matches.

While the individual pieces of technology that contributes to the real-time dashboard have been used before, Player.Connect aims to bring all the separate pieces of data together into one aggregated dashboard.

Alex Skelton, a Sports Science Agency Player.Connect performance consultant, explained to Pundit Arena exactly how the innovative new system works.

Player.Connect aggregates data from multiple wearables.

“It’s a combination of things. So the most important bit of Player.Connect is that it’s aggregating the data from multiple different wearables that the players are using,” Skelton explained.

“It’s aggregated data from the GPS system which is Catapult, First Speed which is doing heart rate and heart rate variability, and there are a couple of other devices.

“Some players are wearing Whoop (sleep measuring) devices that have been provided for them and that’s collecting data from all of those devices which is really for off-field and recovery rather than on-field data.

“Another piece of technology that we’ve integrated into it is HitIQ. HitIQ is a mouth guard that records impact (which in turn, could help identify concussions).

“So in it there are four accelerometers and a gyroscope. The accelerometers measure linear impact and the gyroscope is measuring rotational forces.

“Although this is not technology that is used by the Lions, the idea behind this is to demonstrate what the future of measurement in rugby could look like.”

Measuring the mental well-being of players.

While a big part of Player.Connect is measuring the physical performance of players, the system also looks to measure the mental well-being of the Lions on tour in South Africa.

Coaches and sports scientists will be able to get an insight into squad member’s mental well-being through a number of different methods, including sleep patterns and body weight.

Should a player’s sleep patterns or body weight fluctuate, it can notify coaches that said player may be struggling to cope with the pressures of the tour, which in turn could affect their performance.

“Those players who are wearing the Whoop devices, it measures their sleep – their slow-wave sleep and REM sleep and so forth, their volume of sleep and all that information. But that’s entirely optional for the players,” Skelton said.

“What they all do everyday is what’s called morning monitoring, which is a questionnaire-based system which is part of Player.Connect where they put in the details about how much sleep they had, their quality of sleep, their mood, their energy, their body weight – all those sorts of metrics.

“As well as any soreness that they have and they also go through some actual physical screening tests to make sure they’re not carrying too much soreness or stiffness in different parts of the body that are particularly important for rugby.

“That helps the sports science and medical team to keep an eye on those players to make sure they are recovering well and that they’re not being exposed to too much stress that could result in injury.”

Lions

Impossible to measure who is the Lions’ fittest player.

While Player.Connect measures player’s heart rate, speed and general ability to perform at the highest level, Skelton explained that it was impossible to measure who the overall fittest player is.

Rugby has long been known as a game for all shapes and sizes, and as a result, players in different positions are expected to excel in drastically different areas.

“It’s an impossible question to answer because fitness comes in so many different formats,” Skelton said in regards to the fittest Lions player on tour.

“So if you take Maro Itoje and Dan Biggar – they are such incredibly different athletes that you wouldn’t be able to say that one of those is fitter than the other.

“You can say that one of them is better at certain specific things than the other one. There are lots of metrics in this system that you could use to say that this person is faster than another person or this person is stronger or lifts more weight or whatever.

“But because it’s so specific to each individual position, even if you’re comparing front row to the second row in the scrum, they are now such specifically skilled athletes that they’re really not comparable.

“And before you ask I’m not going to tell you who the fastest person is, although the numbers are very impressive.”

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