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Rugby Research To Help Coaches, Players

15 April 2002

A Massey University mathematical scientist has discovered a new way to analyse rugby players' performance. The result could help both players and coaches find greater improvements by identifying the important features of an individual's match play.

Paul Bracewell is in the final stages of a PhD research project with Eagle Sports, part of Eagle Technology, looking for the holy grail of rugby coaching - a fact-rich way to analyse and improve an individual player.

The Foundation for Research, Science and Technology awarded Mr Bracewell a $76,000 Technology in Industry (TIF) Fellowship through Technology New Zealand to carry out the three-year research project and Mr Bracewell believes the techniques that are being developed will be a world first.

The data provided by Eagle Sports uses more than 130 variables, which are a numeric summary of the physical tasks completed by the individual in a match, such as the number of tackles, metres run and number of kicks made.

Mr Bracewell has shown it is possible to distill a player's game and determine the core components of that individual's skill set (KPI's- key performance indicators) using a variety of mathematical techniques.

"It's showing great promise of becoming a tool that coaches can use easily to determine why a player had a bad game. For instance, the data mining tool is flexible enough to drill down and analyse every tackle taken on a particular side of the body and its outcome," says Mr Bracewell.

"We used mathematical techniques including multivariate analysis and data mining to develop a way to rate a player objectively and compare one individual against another. We then collapse that information down to a single performance measure by comparing ratings with perfection rather than the average."

According to Mr Bracewell, the performance rating and the underlying KPIs enable a coach to monitor individual performance with the use of control charts that allows changes in form to be identified. "It means a coach can determine strengths and weaknesses in the player's underlying KPI's and skills," he says.

He believes the process is not restricted to rugby or sports data and is applicable in any field where a summary of data is required to understand performance.

A keen sportsman with family ties to both first class cricket and rugby, Mr Bracewell earlier matched his love of sports to a passion for statistics to complete a Masters thesis on the analysis of cricket statistics

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