With the first two rounds of RBS 6 Nations now complete, the pre-tournament excitement has proved justified, with this year's Championships already fulfilling the promise to be the closest and most thrilling for many years.
The first two weekends saw England learn to win again after a bitterly disappointing home World Cup, with Eddie Jones' team following a pragmatic win against a Scotland team with a rather more comfortable victory against Italy. Elsewhere, France began their recovery from a World Cup thumping at the hands of the All Blacks by joining England at the top of the table, inching past both Italy and Ireland, and Wales established themselves as the early leaders among the Celtic powers.
All six teams are still seeking to prove that Northern Hemisphere rugby can match the excitement and success of its Southern counterparts, and have now begun to build towards the next World Cup in Japan. As the close early results show, they are having to confront an increasingly competitive environment, with the gap between the traditional powers and rising nations closing. There was no better example of this during the World Cup than the shock win by Japan against South Africa, a victory built on a tight tactical game plan.
In this environment, technology and analysis are becoming increasingly integral to adding the final 5 percent to performance and finding a competitive advantage. Thanks to the increased use of data and analytics, it is becoming ever easier to look at variables such as 'how long did the fly-half hold onto the ball before release?' which can provide a deeper understanding of a team's performance than traditional statistics such as possession, territory, and tackles made.
This is not only to the advantage of coaches and players; fans also want a more in-depth experience, and the rise of multi-screen viewing means they want more content and more detail than ever before. In an age where attention spans are being squeezed, sports need to compete for that attention by using a variety of approaches including new technology to engage fans.
This cutting-edge technology - from never seen before in-depth data and statistics through to virtual reality - is enabling coaches, players, and fans to analyse, improve, and enjoy the game more than ever before.
Some sports teams have even been experimenting with new and different innovative approaches, including using drones to film training sessions to get an ever better view. With each advancement in technology, sport also takes a leap forward, from athletes recovering from injuries in oxygen tents to an analytical approach that is often associated with the boardroom. While all sports apply these methods to some degree, rugby has advanced significantly in recent years.
This year's Rugby 6 Nations will benefit from ever more advanced analysis. Accenture's team will process approximately 2 million rows of data for each and every match to deliver unique insights into game-changing moments throughout the tournament. Until recently, this kind of analysis would only have been available to the players and coaches of those teams who used it to evaluate their performance throughout the Championship, but now it will also be available to fans through the Six Nations app.
Technology and analytics is becoming increasingly important in all sports, but our unique analysis is putting the RBS 6 Nations at the forefront of this movement, to the benefit of players, coaches and fans. After an interesting start, I can't wait to enjoy more confrontations, tries, controversies, and of course, the analysis of it all.
An article from Nick Millman, Managing Director Big Data & Analytics Delivery for Europe Africa Latin America at Accenture.