• Six Nations Ireland wins Six Nations and Grand Slam with authority

Ball, advance, threat. These are the factors with which Ireland has conquered the Six Nations in a big way. More possession than each rival, more meters gained, more time in the opposing zone of 22, where more pressure is put to try. For years, rugby – like so many sports – has been x-rayed by statistics. And in this traditional tournament he has taken a leap forward. Because to the detailed data that was already obtained from the video analysis or GPS of the players, those that come from the oval itself have now been incorporated.

In the 2023 edition, the so-called 'smart ball' has been used for the first time. A development that integrates Sportable's technology with ball manufacturer Gilbert and software company Sage. Each of these connected melons carries a microchip that sends 20 signals per second by radio frequency to a network of beacons located on the perimeter of the playing field. He draws to the millimeter a real-time map of all his trips. But the novelty is that it also provides data on each movement that is printed.

The smart ball created after years of research weighs 455 grams. It charges in half an hour, lasts all day. It was tested in international matches last autumn and its cost has not been disclosed. "It conveys information about its position, its rotation, the acceleration it undergoes," Sportable's chief technology officer, South African Peter Husemeyer, explained when he was introduced. "We can put all of that together in milliseconds to explain what's going on."

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Ireland wins the Six Nations and Grand Slam with authority

  • Writing: SANTIAGO SAIZ Madrid

Ireland wins the Six Nations and Grand Slam with authority

Husemeyer, a nuclear engineer who worked for three years at NASA, came up with the idea of uniting technology and sport when he was attending an ice hockey game in the US and, seeing a load, wondered how much force had intervened in the impact between the two bodies. His school friend Dugald MacDonald, also an engineer and co-founder of Sportable, saw in that concern a commercial opportunity. In 2016 they created the company to transform "the way sports are practiced, seen and trained".

Already in the Six Nations, the smart ball data shows that, in the first three days, the average distance of Ireland's hand passes was the shortest in the entire tournament: 6.4 meters. A confirmation of the support game that has led him to victory. And their skills. In one of his tries against Italy, five pairs of hands touched the oval in 4.1 seconds. Green vertigo.

It is no secret that France, second classified, unfolds under the baton of Dupont. To the French half melé this smart ball certified him against Scotland a pass of 24.9 meters away that in an almost perfect rotation on its axis – also measures that – cut the air at 51.5 kilometers per hour to immediately take the attack to the area where his teammates had numerical superiority.

Although these brushstrokes allude to the game at hand, at first glance the most interesting data refer to the foot. The ball differentiates between types of kicks. It helps to reveal keys on which they aim to recover the oval by the same team that has thrown it: how many seconds the ball has to be in the air and how many meters it must fall so that the kicker's teammates arrive in time to dispute it. In fact, for many years most of the significant advances of terrain are made with the boot although the desire for spectacle dreams of the oval flying from hand to hand.

"It's ground gold for coaches, it gives them real-time data that they can pass on to their players," says retired Australian half-half George Gregan, who tested it at an exhibition. Although the Six Nations organization has not revealed what new information the squads have received or what evaluation they have made compared to other similar programs, the basic data has been shown on television and the most striking conclusions have been crumbled in analyses published by the tournament itself.

This deployment enriches the Six Nations, which in the battle for attention is forced to modernize, as also shown by its Tiktok account. For its CEO, Ben Morel, "data and deeper knowledge of what happens in the field through innovative broadcasts and social media content is another important step in ensuring the best possible experience for followers and support for teams."

The ball has put figures, for example, to thevery arguísimas defensive kicks of the English defender Steward, accustomed to exceeding 50 meters. And to the wide repertoire of Scottish opening half Finn Russell, who against Wales gave three different try passes. One, short, with the back of the forearm when he fell after beating two defenders in 2.5 seconds; another who planned more than 12 meters; and a kick across the field that crossed 44.3 meters for 3.1 seconds to receive it and pose the unmarked wing at the other end.

Looking ahead, the ball – like the players – has room for improvement. His two major remaining challenges would benefit the referees. The first, decide without error when a hand pass has gone forward. And the second, to determine whether or not it has been perched on the grass under a mountain of players. An unknown that sometimes does not clear even the multiple shots of the television referees. Another technology that is once innovative but that slows down the encounters.

As for the game, far away is that rugby of evasion and continuous movement that gave the feeling, not entirely correct, of bordering on chaos and opening space for improvisation. With the predominance of percussion, risk control and kicking, the data has been revalued. The smart ball does not by itself make players smarter but it can fine-tune the strengths of each team. It does not generate fantasy but facilitates effectiveness.

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