Tackling the future of rugby

The South African Rugby Union (SARU) taps cloud technology to improve how the team coaches, trains, and plays rugby—and ultimately, brings fans closer to the game they love.

Ever since taking the rugby world stage in the 1890s, the South African Rugby Union has been passionate about pushing the boundaries of this traditional sport. Now in this new digital era, they’re using innovation to make a personal connection with fans and collaborating with Microsoft to prepare their sport for the future.

Analytics has become the buzzword of professional sports leagues worldwide, and for good reason: while coaches are using data to make strategic decisions, fans are falling in love with numbers, historical records relevant to their interests, and mathematically sound game plans. They want to understand why their team wins. South African Rugby is embracing this trend, unifying analytics at all levels of the organization and leveraging many Microsoft technologies and services to give it an edge in out-performing the competition.

The partnership with Microsoft will create an opportunity for us to develop innovative solutions to do things that weren’t possible previously.

Jurie Roux, Chief Executive Officer, South African Rugby

Transforming data into a winning game plan

The Player Performance Platform (Stratus) is an ecosystem built for team sports that gives stakeholders the information and interactions necessary to perform at their best.

Now, using the Stratus Reporting Engine, South African Rugby has an organized view of all their data—collecting over 40 million data points from more than 6,000 games.

The Technical Coaching team can turn that data into insights, which coaches and players can translate into winning in-game strategies. Analysts can then use machine learning techniques to discover key learnings, once all of the data has been integrated into the reporting engine.


Springboks: pushing the edge of Rugby since 2012

Roderick Barrett, Director & Founder, Mobii Systems
Louis Koen, High Performance Manager & Coach, SARU
An example of how the SARU team customizes content on their website for fans

Customized content for fans

Of course, this entire analytics endeavor isn’t just for the coaches—South African Rugby is using cloud technology to deliver on their business goal to become a trusted, fan-forward organization. In other words, they’re delivering what modern sports fans want and need: a taste of the winning secret sauce—analytics and relevant content.

To bring this fan-centric experience to life, South African Rugby is overhauling their website as well. The new Fan Engagement strategy includes improved digital marketing tools, a holistic view of customer needs, and insights generated by machine learning.

The result is an aggregated and growing database of fans experiencing a deeper, more immersive version of South African professional rugby. And that’s part of the larger plan for today’s South African Rugby.

The South Africa Rugby team is commonly referred to as the Springboks (the national animal of South Africa). The site allows fans to get closer to the sport they love and show their support for the athletes in green and gold who represent their country.

Looking ahead, the union is experimenting with a variety of Microsoft technologies to welcome the future of the sport.

They’re working on a smart stadium concept, which invites all stakeholders at a live rugby match to collaborate in a real-time environment. And South African Rugby is even looking to incorporate wearables into professional matches. While playing on a field surrounded by radio signal receivers, rugby players will wear devices that send broadcast transmissions. South African Rugby can then track their play in real-time using a method called time difference of arrival. They’ll even apply this technology to augmented reality, using a combination of time of flight (radio signals) and camera tracking to feed information to wearable lenses such as HoloLens. This will allow the team to make informed decisions without losing focus on the game.

Technology empowers coaches and players

Coaches use technology to provide feedback and make strategic decisions.
Players use data to measure performance and transfer their knowledge to the field.


Power of sport

Rugby has always had a way of bonding the rainbow nation. Siya Kholsi’ team has this chance again in 2019. In 2007 when the Springboks became champions, Siya never dreamed that he would be able to play on a world stage

I was watching it in a tavern because I didn’t have a TV at home. I know what it did for us back then. I have never seen people come together over sport (like that).

Siya Kolisi, Springboks Captain
Meet the player: Mbongeni “Bongi” Mbonambi

Known for his hard-working nature, Mbongeni “Bongi” Mbonambi is a powerfully built hooker for the Springboks. He believes coach Rassie Erasmus has played an essential role in the team's recent rise: "He gives you more freedom to go out there and be yourself and express yourself. That has been the most outstanding thing about the team this year."

Meet the player: Elton Jantjies

Elton Jantjies, a Fly Half for the Springboks, quickly proved himself as crucial asset. He first played with the squad in 2010, when he was also named SA U20 and Young Player of the Year. Since then, he made his Test debut in 2012 against Australia, played nine tests with the squad in 2016, and in 2017, scored 52 points against France in three tests.

No single secret to success

"Technology plays a major part in rugby," says Eben Etzebeth, a lock for the Springboks. But of course, there's no replacement for old-fashioned training and hard work. "Try to be consistent every day in your training and preparation.," he says. "Our fans motivate us to work our hardest with the passion they show come game time."