Since taking the helm as director of rugby at Wasps Rugby Club, Dai Young has steered the club from an 11th place finish in 2012, to topping the table last season, and the focus, as the club is set to commence on the new campaign, is going one better.
During his time, Young has expanded the analysis department at the club from one to four members of staff and he explains how important the work they do is greatly improving the everyday operations.
“The analysis of data is a huge tool for me. Here at Wasps we now have four full-time staff working in the analysis department because I want the coaches to coach and I want them to have the stats there to support what they’re doing.
“People talk about gut feeling but if you’re making a decision against the stats you need to take another look. The stats don’t lie, it’s not opinion-based; it takes a lot of the guesswork out of rugby. I have my philosophy and opinions but, at the end of the day, you would be stupid not to look at what the data is showing you. You don’t pick your team on stats but it certainly informs you.”
Data and its role in the sport has changed out of sight in recent years, certainly since Young, who represented Wales and the British and Irish Lions as a player, last strapped on his boots.
“It started off by just logging the key events in a game but these days it gives you all the stats in huge detail, gives you visuals, and GPS gives you critical data that informs you all through the training week and in games.
“GPS has had a big impact in recent years, monitoring speed, distance covered, number of contacts hit and so on, during games and during training. During the training week, GPS data makes sure that the players aren’t overtraining or undertraining, and gives you the same information during a game. With live GPS in-game you can see how much a player is covering, so at a point in the game, if the metres covered takes a nosedive, it’s a clear indication that they’re tiring and you may want to bring someone fresh on.”
Young explains that the data he gets for his own side, he’ll also get for the opposition, which will inform how he and his coaches plan to take them on.
“There’s no hiding place really. We look at the trends of a side, such as ball in play time, which side is kicking the most, who attacks the most from first phase, who the weakest defender is, who the best defender is, and that will inform how we prepare for the weekend’s game.”
With all that information at his fingertips, it makes the job seem simple, but Young explains that not everything can be predicted by the numbers.
“You have to be careful it doesn’t become data overload. There are uncontrollables and there are factors outside of the data. Weather has a big impact, knowing your players’ temperament, all sorts of things outside of the numbers, so you can’t run everything from the data, but you can certainly use them as a tool to inform or support your decisions.”