Six Nations 2017: How Home Nations teams used sports technology, from cryogenics to GPS

Martin Corry
Ireland v England - RBS Six Nations
Six Nations winners England benefited from Eddie Jones's emphasis on fitness (Source: Getty)

Technology is probably the single biggest influencer in sport today and of all the different sports embracing it, rugby can reasonably claim to be amongst those leading the charge.

While the final weekend of the Six Nations may be remembered for the circus in France and England’s failure to seize the Grand Slam (again), the calibre of the matches has been exceptional.

I believe that this is in no small part due to teams adopting technology to aid and improve performance.

Read more: Wales and England outfoxed by French and Irish cunning

England, despite falling at the last hurdle, were the standout team of the tournament.

Head coach Eddie Jones was clear that his initial mission was to get the team a lot fitter, a stance that was plain when he was rumoured to have delivered the news to a certain player that “the good news is you are in the squad, the bad news is you are fat”.

Those selected for training could be under no illusions that condition would be paramount – and it showed over the past few weeks.

Warren Gatland, when incumbent with Wales in the lead-up to the 2015 World Cup, took the same line, so any players selected for his British and Irish Lions squad this summer can expect a thorough pre-tour beasting.

The Lions have a history of using player tracking and team movement tech for 16 years so the likelihood is that more of the same will be on the table.

But what is the technology giving the Home Nations these marginal gains?

Broadly, anything that measures something – on the basis that what gets measured, gets done.

All teams now have GPS tracking, which reveals everything from how fast or far they run – from top speed down – to how long they stay on the floor post-tackle.

With information such as this, data such as simple heart rate or hydration monitoring, while important and widely used, looks distinctly old-school.

The modern game is hugely intense, with impact, contact, speed and strength all needing specific training which, thanks to technology, is now tailored to each player individually.

Also, the data gathered from GPS increasingly dictates the game plan; when it comes to substitutions, these are now as likely to be based on injury avoidance as much as peak performance.

Regions each have their own preferences, with Wales embracing cryogenic recovery – basically they freeze players as it speeds post-playing recovery – and Ireland employing a holistic player management system that spans – well, everything really.

Elite rugby, like every other sport, requires a very specific set of skills which international players either do or don’t have; technology won’t instil these but, as witnessed in all four Home Nations’ Six Nations campaigns, it can help to ensure optimum level performances.

Martin Corry is chair of the judging panel for the Sports Technology Awards

City A.M.'s opinion pages are a place for thought-provoking views and debate. These views are not necessarily shared by City A.M.

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