Analytics are keeping England one step ahead, as shown by May's try in the win over Ireland
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England head coach Eddie Jones revealed that cutting edge research from Liverpool FC played a part in Jonny May’s wonder try against Ireland on Saturday.
Since the World Cup, Jones has been heavily invested in exploring the best metrics capturing off-the-ball data and especially in the transition of what he terms “flicking the switch” between defence and attack. In training, Jones acts as England’s flick the switch coordinator in unstructured games where the roles between attack and defence are randomly reversed. That was perfectly illustrated by England’s second try at Twickenham when they turned over an Irish lineout inside their own 22, spread the ball wide to May who went 97 metres inside 15 seconds.
Having already held talks with figures inside the Red Bull sporting empire, Jones has also met with Ian Graham, Liverpool’s director of research. Graham has been credited as the architect of an analytics upheaval at Anfield which helped end Liverpool’s 30-year wait for a top-flight title.
With that information on board, Jones says that England are only just scratching the surface of their own data revolution. “I’ve been reading, Believe Us which is the story of Liverpool and talks a bit about how they are using data analytics to improve their game,” Jones said. “We had a great meeting with the Liverpool analyst, that’s one area they’re in.
May scored two tries to move level with Will Greendwood and Ben Cohen in England's all-time list
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“They, and I think most football sides, are very advanced in being able to measure the movement of the players off the ball. If you look at any stats that you get, they are only concerned with information on the ball. Mako Vunipola’s movement off the ball is crucial to what we do when we transition. So we’re starting to get some measurements, we’re in nursery school now whereas Liverpool are doing their PhD at Oxford.
“We’re starting to develop our own database, starting to be able to use some tracking from a company called Sportable that’s helping us in that area that can measure work off the ball. That’s so important, transitional parts, it’s a pretty exciting area for us and it’s pleasing to see that try today where we shifted the ball quickly to the outside and then it was a leg race. There are not too many people in the world who can beat Jonny in a leg race.”
- Read more: Anatomy of a Twickenham wonder-try: How England wing Jonny May stunned Ireland
After a scoreless run of five games, May’s pair of tries took him joint second with Will Greenwood and Ben Cohen together on 31 in the list of all-time England tryscorers. Even during May’s comparative ‘drought’, Jones says that he was working harder than ever and has backed him to eventually overhaul Rory Underwood’s total of 49 tries. “I don’t see why not,” Jones said. “He’s only going to get better and better. I think he’s going to be at his best when he’s about 32/33. He’s 30 now so there’s no reason why he can’t keep scoring tries and being one of our most important players.
“Maybe when he was a bit younger he used to get a bit despondent when he didn’t score tries, now he knows that his role is much bigger than that and that while tries are obviously cherished, but not the things that dictate whether you’ve had a good game or not. Against Italy his kick-chase and kick-return were absolutely outstanding. He broke the record for the amount of high-speed running, we’ve never seen as much running as he did that day. He got no reward on the scoreboard but today he did. It comes around.”
England’s players were allowed to visit their families after the match before returning to their Teddington base on Monday morning for a shorter training week leading into their final group match against Wales at Parc y Scarlets on Saturday. Since losing to France in the opening Six Nations match, England are on a six-match winning streak while Wales only just ended a six-game losing run with a 18-0 victory against Georgia.
Yet while England will be odds-on favourites to secure their place in the Autumn Nations Cup final, Jones warned that the formbook goes out the window in matches against Wales. “Wales is a completely different game again, it’s their one game of the year,” Jones said. “I think it’s the Stereophonics (As Long as We Beat the English) is it? I was listening to it last night. It symbolises how important their game against England is. They are playing at the heart and soul of Welsh rugby, at the Llanelli home ground, where they had some of their greatest victories in Welsh rugby. We know they are going to be a completely different animal. We’re going to have to prepare really tough for that campaign, it’s at a ground not a stadium so it’s open to the elements a lot more. Our preparation for that game is going to have to be absolutely world class.”