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Tech to enhance viewer experience as Rugby World Cup kicks off

Admire Moyo
By Admire Moyo, ITWeb's news editor.
Johannesburg, 08 Sept 2023
The Rugby World Cup fixtures run from 8 September to 28 October.
The Rugby World Cup fixtures run from 8 September to 28 October.

Technology, once again, takes centre stage as the Rugby World Cup 2023 kicks off today, with hosts France taking on New Zealand.

South Africa’s Springboks, holders and three-time world champions, will see action on Sunday, when they face off against Scotland at the Stade Velodrome in Marseille.

World Rugby, the organiser of the tournament, has entered into a partnership with technology companies Opta and Capgemini, to tap into artificial intelligence (AI) and data analytics to ensure fans get the most from the event.

Opta Sports, formerly Opta Sportsdata and more commonly known as Opta, is a British sports analytics company. It provides data for more than 30 sports in over 70 countries, with clients ranging from leagues and federations, to broadcasters and betting websites.

Its tournament predictor uses thousands of data points and its AI supercomputer to simulate the Rugby World Cup 10 million times, giving a percentage chance of each team winning the tournament.

Capgemini is a French multinational information technology services and consulting company, headquartered in Paris. It is World Rugby’s digital transformation partner, tasked with supporting the organisation to integrate all technology with its partners and suppliers.

Its technology plays a vital part in many aspects of sports – enhancing the viewing experience, encouraging fan engagement, and assisting teams and players to increase performance, says Capgemini.

Data scientists from Capgemini will provide new in-game insights for the Rugby World Cup 2023 global broadcast feed.

A matter of statistics

In a statement yesterday, Word Rugby says by working together with Opta and Capgemini, three new insights will be showcased for the first time at an international rugby tournament.

According to the organisation, the “Expected Points”, “Momentum Tracker” and “Pitch Position Insights” will enhance professional and fans’ conversations around team analysis.

“Fans expect more data-enhanced experiences from sports, and Rugby World Cup 2023 is a fantastic, global opportunity to test these new broadcast graphics,” says Virginie Regis, Capgemini chief marketing and communications officer.

Describing how “Pitch Position Insights” works, World Rugby says any single action can sway the course of a match, but the team’s starting position on the field can make a substantial difference.

Crunching data from the last three years of tests – and including matches to be played during Rugby World Cup 2023 – this insight evaluates the zones on the pitch where the attacking team is most likely to score a try.

Similarly, it adds, for defence the data has analysed the likelihood of a team successfully defending a scoring opportunity that starts in each area of the field. The data shows some teams are more successful – statistically – defending certain positions than others, says the organisation.

On “Expected Points”, World Rugby notes: “Should the captain tell his fly-half to kick for the corner? Or should he opt for the safer option and bag the three points? It is one of the most-debated topics in rugby and will come up time and again during Rugby World Cup 2023.”

According to World Rugby, “Expected Points” helps the viewer understand the risk and reward by offering a simple graphic using data gathered from thousands of games over 10 years.

“In essence, it quantifies the expected performance of a team in terms of points and tries when their captain is making that decision.”

The organisation says as in other sports, the same technology can also predict what the final score in the match will be. This “Expected Points” algorithm uses various factors, including the current score, how many minutes have been played and if a team have a player advantage.

Using AI, “Momentum Tracker” measures the momentum built up by each team. The Momentum Index data feed calculates momentum by analysing each minute of the game and determining which team has the best scoring opportunity in that moment.

This includes where a team gains the momentum, or “go-forward”, through superior defensive play, denying their opponent attacking opportunities, not only when they are in attack.

World Rugby says the AI model takes into account the current score in the game, on-field player advantage, time in the game, field location, team in possession, phase count and pre-game score predictions.

“World Rugby are excited to be working with our valued partners to innovate rugby and the match viewing experience, delivering brand-new insights for fans across the globe for Rugby World Cup 2023,” says Alan Gilpin, World Rugby CEO.

Last-minute TV deal

Meanwhile, in South Africa, Zizi Kodwa, minister of sport, arts and culture, welcomed the agreement between the South African Broadcasting Corporation (SABC) and MultiChoice regarding the broadcast rights for the 2023 Rugby World Cup.

MultiChoice announced it had reached an agreement with the SABC to sub-license broadcast rights to the public broadcaster for the Rugby World Cup.

This means millions of South Africans will be able to watch key matches, including all the Springboks’ games.

“I welcome this groundbreaking agreement, which will allow all South Africans to watch the world champions, the Springboks, as they defend their Rugby World Cup title.

“Rugby has the potential to unite our people, to foster social cohesion and national unity. We have seen this in the times the Springboks have won the Rugby World Cup,” Kodwa said yesterday.

The Rugby World Cup fixtures run from Friday, 8 September to Saturday, 28 October.