Top 14 – Ugo Mola: “All the data experts told us that we had to take out Romain Ntamack in the final”

During a conference on the theme of technological progress in the service of sport, Stade Toulouse manager Ugo Mola confided that the data indicated him to take out Romain Ntamack in the Top 14 final. Needless to recall the decisive action of the half d opening a few seconds before the end of the match…

Now is not the time for trial, but rather for observation. Data is now an integral part of world rugby, and you would have to be damn archaic to go back to this technological progress which has perfected an already very cerebral sport. No doubt about it. Data specialists can now be found in all clubs, and the staff of the major nations in world rugby are passionate about it. GPS, body fat index sensors, all these tools which arrived in rugby in the 2000s, took longer to be used in France.

In 2018, former coach (2012-2015) Philippe Saint-André confirmed: “We were a bit of the last to adapt to new technologies. Why? Because it represents additional costs. For a squad of 32 players, you have to buy 32 GPS. If you want to use these GPS properly, you need a employed full-time to retrieve the data and use it. All this represents money and it was not the priority of club presidents ten years ago. The Anglo-Saxons and the New Zealanders have “So we took a step ahead of us. It’s now become standard practice.”

Arriving at the head of the French XV in 2019, Fabien Galthié has since used data extensively to build his selection and help the Blues progress. In interview given to Midi Olympique a few weeks ago, the navigator Thomas Coville, friend of the former scrum half, testified: “He had started to really train his staff on physical preparation and in particular data, which impressed me a lot. As a sailor, I use data a lot and on that, I had a lot of topics for conversation with him.”

Mola: “All the psychics say we have to take it out” (Ntamack)

During his back-to-school conference, Fabien Galthié once again chose the figures to try to explain the early elimination of the French XV in the quarter-final of the World Cup. This justification by arithmetic appears logical, concrete, but has annoyed more than one, starting with theancien international Richard Dourtheon the set of the CRC (Canal Rugby Club): “Everyone loves it, it’s perfect, but they avoid all the points that really interest us: why did we lose? Why were there so many injured? He smokes everyone with his data and I don’t think that’s what respecting people who love rugby is all about.”

So should we be wary of these famous data? On the occasion of a conference organized in Agen and more precisely within the framework of the Rencontres Michel-Serres, the manager of the Stade Toulouse Ugo Line, and the former coach of Agen or Usap Christian Lanta, discussed the themes of data and artificial intelligence in sport. Mola, who has won four titles with Toulouse since he was in charge of the athlete, reaffirmed the interest of new technologies, while specifying that they were tools and not constraints: “We have physical, medical data and performance indicators, but these are only decision aids. We must not forget the context in which we take them.”

Isn’t the risk of data that a coach uses it to exonerate himself when he fails?

In the Top 14 final, in particular, where the manager confided that all the indicators advised him to coach Romain Ntamack, ultimately the great hero of June 17 after an extraordinary ride in the La Rochelle defense: “In the Top 14 final against La Rochelle, Ntamack has been making counter-performances for ten minutes, he plays his 31st match of the season, all the indicators say that he must be taken out. But when he scores the winning try in the 78th minute, he reached his absolute maximum speed of the season!” So the figures don’t explain everything… And the Toulouse manager concluded, as a warning: “These tools must remain in place of the tool. Isn’t the risk of data that a coach uses it to exonerate himself when he fails?”

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