Top referees reap rewards of GPS technology
The International Rugby Board is revolutionising the way that
international referees physically prepare for the demands of the
modern Test arena by using the latest Global Positioning Satellite
With the ball in play for more time than ever before and players becoming fitter and faster, the world's top referees often cover up to eight kilometres and undertake 400 changes in speed during the average Test match, while heart rates can be up to 70% in the high intensity zone, which is comparable to many athletic disciplines.
The IRB is constantly looking to raise the bar in terms of innovative and effective ways to improve the consistency of the application of Law and GPS technology is a core element of a physical conditioning programme that ensures that the official in the middle is in optimum shape for the increasing demands of the Test arena.
"Rugby is constantly evolving. Players across all positions are becoming fitter and the ball is in play longer than ever before and it is important that we ensure that the world's top referees have access to a conditioning support structure that allows them to achieve optimal individual standards both on match days and also in training sessions," said IRB Referee Manager Paddy O'Brien.
"These referees are exceptionally fit. Conditioning is massively important, not just in terms of being prepared for all types of match environment, weather condition or altitude, but also to ensure that the referees are able to make clear decisions without being effected by fatigue as matches can swing on the smallest of margins."
Match and training environment
"GPS technology allows us to truly monitor physical performance during a match and also within the training environment. It is very specific and the most accurate way to manage a referee's physical performance, identifying areas that require improvement, promoting consistency and also managing the welfare of the athlete to ensure that they physically prepare in the most effective way possible," added O'Brien.
The GPS technology devices are housed within a vest worn over the shoulders and record invaluable data on match day and within the training environment that includes heart rate, distance covered, speed of movement, body load (work rate) and field position data. From these areas of improvement, patterns or trends in physical performance can be identified.
After each match the data is downloaded into a web based performance analysis system (Performance Profiler) and managed by Matt Blair, the IRB's Referee conditioning specialist. This data is then made available to the referees and their conditioning coaches and from this training programmes can be adjusted to optimise physical performance and promote consistency across the panel.
The referees meet with Blair as a group once a year and the web based performance analysis system allows the referees to be supported through the year and at various global locations.
Raising the bar
"The IRB in collaboration with its Member Unions has constantly raised the bar in terms of the fitness levels that need to be achieved by referees at the very top level. In addition to GPS technology, the IRB Panel is subjected to year-round monitoring and assessment with physical performance an important criteria in the selection process to ensure the highest possible standards," added O'Brien.
"The modern referee is an athlete and we are confident that the processes that we have put in place working with our Member Unions mean that we have a panel of referees who are in the best physical shape for the demands of modern Test Rugby."
The IRB has also opened the door for sanctioned trials of GPS technology by Unions in order to gather valuable data on player training and playing loads in order to further enhance global player welfare policies.