Top teams turn to hi-tech to gain that extra edge on the field

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 21 August, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 21 August, 2011, 12:00am


England seemed unconcerned with the uproar caused when they announced their away strip would be black - all black.

As if that wasn't enough to raise eyebrows - and tempers - across the host nation, the English camp then went very public with their plans to tap into the world of science as they prepare to take their campaign for the Web Ellis Trophy in the antipodes.

Enlisting the help of the McLaren Formula One team, the English have apparently turned their attention to GPS and heart-monitoring systems as they chart their individual training and recovery programmes.

Famously, it was ex-England coach Clive Woodward who back in 2003 claimed that an edge in technology had helped his side win the World Cup in Australia and current England centre Mike Tindall, also part of that winning side, was recently bold enough to proclaim that other nations had since followed England's lead.

'Everyone has caught up and is at the same level so you really are looking for that half a per cent,' said Tindall.

It's a statement that no doubt brought a few chuckles in New Zealand. The All Blacks have been leaning on their nation's tech industries for years - the difference being that they don't like the rest of the world to know exactly what they are doing.

At this World Cup, more than ever before, technology is being used by each and every nation as they try to turn the odds of victory in their favour. It is a side of sport, also, that is cloaked in secrecy.

'There's a lot of privacy and we are not really allowed to let anyone from outside know what they are doing with us,' reveals Graeme Burborough, general manager of the Dunedin-based Silicon Coach company which has developed a video analysis system used by the All Blacks.

'It's certainly about finding that edge, whether it be a second or a centimetre. Modern sport is so competitive and so professional that everyone is looking for that edge.'

The Silicon Coach team's package allows coaches to break down individual skills - the pass, the field goal attempt - into minute detail so they can check on both what a player is doing right and doing wrong.

And it's a science that is slowly creeping into the mainstream, too - Silicon Coach offer much the same package for weekend warriors as they do the pros.

'It's that crossover market that helps the tech-heads afford to keep extending what it is we know about sports and about performance,' says Richard Snow, managing director at the Auckland-based VX Sport company that produces the heart and performance monitoring system used by the All Blacks. 'It's all about getting that extra little piece of data,' he says. 'Everyone is trying to find out what everyone else is doing, too. You get that in the teams and the individual players and you certainly get that in the companies who are providing this new technology. It's a competitive landscape - just like the top-level sports themselves.'