Munster ups performance with Apple
For over 15 years Compu b has provided hardware and consultancy to help the renowned rugby club stay at the top of its game.
Munster Rugby fans will remember the moment when Peter Stringer scored the try that put the club on course to win its first Heineken Cup in 2006. Not known as a runner or considered a threat, Stringer saw his opposite number was out of position and rounded the blindside of the scrum to take the ball across the line. It was an audacious move that had been intricately planned in the run up to the game, using video analysis with Apple equipment provided by Compu b.
Over ten years later and George Murray, Munster’s Performance Analyst, has lost count of how many times video has helped turn a game. “It’s so pervasive now, in preparation for a game, at half time and during the game. My role is to use video and work with the coaching staff to increase our win percentage,” he said.
The club has a High Performance Centre in the grounds of the University of Limerick, a state-of-the-art three-storey facility that includes gyms, video rooms, a lecture theatre and a Performance Analysis Centre built around Apple technology. Six iPads, 16 iMacs and Apple TVs for streaming video to different-sized monitors and screens, are in constant use by squad players, academy players, coaching staff and the three performance analysts.
The Apple hardware is all supplied and configured by Compu b to create a world-class performance analysis suite.
Away from home, Apple TVs are used in the changing room to stream critical footage at half time team talks. During the match, it’s iPad time. “We take HD feeds from the TV trucks and stream video to them during matches, using software to edit specific incidents we think are useful,” explained Murray. “This is also relayed to the senior coaching staff, sitting in the stands behind Apple Cinema Display screens.”
Building an Apple ecosystem
Topping off the Apple ecosystem are iOS apps accessed by players and coaches on the iPhone, iPad, MacBook Pro and iMac. MyPlayXPlay is used by coaches for in-game analysis, and the ILG Elite Sports Platform by players post-game, when they can download their own clips in their own time. George Murray can see who has watched what to make sure everyone is doing their homework.
The medical team is also using MyplayXplay on their iPads, accessing specialist content pitch-side, to help make accurate assessments more quickly, a big benefit at a time when there’s much discussion on the impact of head injuries in sport and on general player welfare.
A breath-taking showcase for Apple equipment and Compu b’s consultancy skills, it’s clear to see how video has put Munster at the leading edge of sports analysis, using technology that the players have enthusiastically embraced. Was it a challenge getting them use it?
“Never,” said Murray. “The more drive the team has for success, the more they see the benefits of the equipment. It helps, of course, that Apple kit is so simple to use and they could very quickly see the benefits.”
The set up wasn’t always so sophisticated. Munster and Compu b have grown together over the course of a 15-year partnership that started in very modest ways. Back in 2002, after Munster lost to Leicester in the European Cup Final, Murray joined the coaching staff as their first full-time video analyst, tasked with strengthening the backroom team in order to keep Munster Rugby at the cutting edge of the professional game.
He soon found himself transporting video kit in the back of his car between the two Munster grounds, Thomond Park in Limerick and Irish Independent Park in Cork, recording training and analysing the opposition, all in pursuit of making Munster the best team in Europe.
As the video analytics project advanced, his needs escalated and he looked for more help from Compu b. “I had the equipment and I had the software, but I needed to get someone local I could depend on for servicing, networking and configuring Apple accessories,” said Murray.
Dave Fagan, Service Co-ordinator at Compu b, picks up the story: “The first few times he came in, we didn’t even know he was working for Munster. Initially it was one-off purchases and occasional repairs. But soon we were advising on the technology and keeping him up to speed with the Apple roadmap.”
Before long, Munster had switched from its old Apple supplier and begun a partnership with Compu b that has flourished to this day. “They have become one of our oldest customers,” said Fagan. “Like all the best partnerships, we both get a lot out of it. We’ve had sponsorship opportunities and are proud to be associated with the club and help out in whatever way we can.”
Munster’s progress is well documented over the 15 years. In the same period, Compu b has grown from one store in Limerick and three staff to a chain of eight across Ireland and the UK, employing 167 people. Providing consultancy services to clients has played a big part in its expansion, a skillset developed early on with Munster.
The organisations became even tighter around 2007, when George Murray wanted to make video highlights of the opposition available to players and coaching staff in the lead up to games. He liked the idea of a hosted solution that would be much more efficient than having to transport the footage between grounds. Another Apple product came to the rescue, iWeb, the first iteration of what we now know as iCloud. Back then it provided an easy way to create and design websites without coding.
The Munster Rugby performance website was born, hosting video highlights of games for the players and coaches to access from anywhere. By now, the iPod Touch was available, the first Apple handheld that could play back video. All the team had one and were able to access the online content whenever they wanted. Individual training and video sessions were also becoming more sophisticated, carried out face-to-face using the MacBook Pro and iMacs, until the iPad was launched in 2010.
Product and player evolution
The story of Munster analytics is also the story of Apple’s product evolution. Early versions of the iMac were the desktop computer of choice. The 10 backroom staff all had 13-inch MacBook Pros as their main workstations, supplementing them for analytics work with iPads that were made available to them on the training grounds and at matches.
The players gradually moved from the iPod Touch to the iPhone, considered a game-changer in smartphone design, it was a different kind of game-changer for Munster. Most of the 36 senior pros now have an iPad as well as the iPhone for accessing video via the purpose-built ILG app. There are a further 25 players in the Munster Academy who are also regular visitors to the Performance Analysis Centre where they have training sessions in front of iMacs and iPads.
Players are expected to attend education sessions every day as they go between their gym and pitch work. “Preparing for games is vital, but ensuring we have a continuous development pathway for the player is also a critical component of what we do here at Munster Rugby,” explained Murray.
The amount of content available to the team and coaches continues to grow, with a third-party service providing video of any game anywhere in the world, and the option of focusing on specific set pieces or individual players. This is in addition to the performance apps and Munster’s cloud-hosted footage, an ever-expanding content library stored at the training centre.
The analytics team also shoots its own footage on HD camcorders. As well as playbooks for game strategy and training, they use video to explore athletic development, checking the running styles of players coming back from injury, for example, or lifting techniques in the gym.
Consulting and support
The main benefit of Munster’s association with Compu b has been helping propel the team to the top echelons of the game. “Using Compu b and Apple technology is helping bring our players to the next level of professional sport,” said Murray. “I’ve no doubt we are at the cutting edge of performance analysis practices and our relationship with Compu b ensures we can continue to develop our department and keep Munster at the top of the world game.”
But there’s a less glamorous side to the partnership, that has, on occasion, been every bit as important. “If there’s an emergency, they’re there for us,” said Murray. Aside from the steady trickle of repairs, when iPhone and iPad screens get cracked, there are more dramatic interventions. One time, at an away fixture in the UK, laptops and hard drives were stolen from the team hotel. “We were playing a European Cup final a week later. Compu b helped us out, retrieving lost data and videos from cloud storage and quickly providing replacement hardware,” recalled Murray.
Munster also taps into Compu b’s expertise for more strategic consultations. “I rely on them for advice and on where the technology is going and ways to integrate it into our analytics programmes,” said Murray. “It’s been a great relationship that I expect to continue long into the future.”