French national rugby team boosts performance with AI and analytics
Gaining a competitive edge through data analysis.
19 of 20 matches won
from start of SAS partnership in 2021 through April 2023
The French Rugby Federation counts on intelligence gleaned from SAS® Viya® on Microsoft Azure to guide coaching decisions and enhance player performance
While rugby was introduced to France in the early 1870s, the beloved sport is now evolving with modern times and technology. The French Rugby Federation (Fédération Française de Rugby – FFR) recently partnered with SAS to transform its data into strategic insights for French rugby staff and players. The goal: Make well-informed decisions to boost performance and increase victories.
The genesis of the project dates back to 2021. At the end of the annual Six Nations Championship, the entire staff, under the impetus of Fabien Galthié – Head Coach of the French national team – met with SAS to discuss using data to improve the team’s performance. The collaboration started with a series of workshops and discussions to clarify the challenges faced by the French national team. The result: an advanced analytics and artificial intelligence (AI) platform adapted to the specific needs of the team.
“We are extremely proud to collaborate with the FFR,” says Jean-François Sebastian, Managing Director of SAS France. “This partnership combines our love of rugby and our ambition to put the potential of new technologies and SAS’ know-how in terms of innovation at the service of sportsmen and sportswomen from all over the world.”
“The French Rugby Federation is excited to use the cutting-edge analytics platform provided by SAS to improve the performance of the French teams,” says Laurent Gabbanini, General Manager of the FFR. “These decision-making applications, developed in synergy with the staff of the French national team, represent a major asset at the heart of the performance challenges of our sport.”
Our coaches, physical trainers, performance analysts and data scientists are in constant interaction with SAS to develop concrete statistical analyses related to our performance, such as touches and fouls – or that of our opponents – giving us an undeniable competitive advantage. Julien Piscione Head of Performance Support FFR
Data-driven decisions lead to game-changing outcomes
Everything started with a specific mission: Study and optimize the performance of the players from the touchline. AI and machine learning technologies can find patterns and trends that coaches can use to come up with better strategies for the team and help each player become even better.
Crucial aspects of play, such as lineouts, were scrutinized with SAS to help guide members of the French national team’s coaching staff in their decisions on the team’s set-piece strategies. The coaching staff could analyze player position, touch exit, speed and distance of throws. In doing so, they became better informed on athletes’ strengths and weaknesses, and could adapt the team’s approach to improve performance. The collaboration quickly expanded to include other actions in the game, like passing, tackling, rucking, scrums and footwork.
Thanks to the data analysis provided by SAS Viya on Microsoft Azure on strategic aspects of the game, the French national team now has a major decision-making resource.
“GPS data, game actions during matches, training sequences – we process and analyze a whole series of information to extract the game characteristics of the French national team, but also of its opponents,” explains Charlotte Douette, a Data Scientist at SAS who serves as the FFR Project Manager.
After each match and training session, the SAS Viya platform automatically updates each report sent to the French national team staff. Coaches can rely on extensive reports, supported by video and adapted dashboards. The automation saves time for the users, from video analysts to sports scientists, and enables them to be more reactive to the coaches’ requests.
FFR – Facts & Figures
international matches analyzed on SAS Viya
unique data points captured per match
19 of 20
matches won from start of SAS partnership in 2021 through April 2023
‘An undeniable competitive advantage’
“The demands on national team staff for sports data analysis are increasing,” says Julien Piscione, Head of Performance Support for the FFR. “This collaboration with SAS is a real opportunity to raise our level of analysis, thanks to SAS’ software and expertise in the field of data science. Our coaches, physical trainers, performance analysts and data scientists are in constant interaction with SAS to develop concrete statistical analyses related to our performance, such as touches and fouls – or that of our opponents – giving us an undeniable competitive advantage.”
The results have been convincing. Since the partnership with SAS began, the French national team won 19 of its next 20 matches, including a Grand Slam victory (meaning France defeated every other team) in the Six Nations Championship in 2022 – a first in 12 years.