The best sponsor partnerships will always be about delivering value in ways that go beyond branding.

Yesterday at the IRFU High Performance Centre on the Sport Ireland Campus we were given an opportunity to see how this is becoming a reality between Vodafone and the irish Rugby team on the eve of the Rugby World Cup.

Vodafone Ireland have installed the latest 5G Standalone (SA) Mobile Private Network (MPN) technology for the Irish rugby team, to supply the fastest and most reliable in-play analytics possible.

Previously, the team relied on third party best-effort connectivity, in the form of standard WiFi, across stadiums and training facilities both at home and away.

Now giving instant feedback on on-field plays and tactics, this 5G MPN connectivity and artificial intelligence technology, provided in partnership with Ericsson, ensures faster download and upload speeds and lower latency, which can be utilised for real-time performance analysis and decisions on the pitch.

Multiple cameras surround the main training pitch, supplemented by a drone and this all feeds back into a mobile unit that will travel next week to France and be available when the team arrive at their training base in Tours.

In simple terms, it improves the ability to maximise the time on pitch where the smallest tweak to a running line or defensive position, can have a significant impact on the weekend’s game.

Craig Casey was able to do his passing drills and by the time he walked the 30 metres to the side of the pitch was able to see what he had done from multiple positions before tweaking and going out to do them again.

IRFU Head of Analytics and Innovation, Vinny Hammond and his analysis team of John Buckley, Alan Walsh and Jack Hannon have played a key role working with Vodafone to develop the technology in a way they can best use to support coaches and players.

Later today, our Thursday Podcast will be in the Business of Rugby Series, in partnership with Bank of Ireland, and will feature interviews with Vodafone’s Chris Byrne, Hammond and coaches Paul O’Connell and Simon Easterby. We think it will be well worth a listen for anyone involved in sports analysis, technology and following the Irish team prep for the World Cup.

“At Vodafone, we are so proud of our support for the Irish Rugby team, so we’re delighted to bring further value through the delivery of this cutting-edge technology solution,” said Vodafone Ireland Network Director, Sheila Kavanagh.

“Performance analysis has experienced massive changes in the past couple of decades. What started with pen and paper-based methods for collecting notational data has evolved to using cutting-edge computer-based technologies and artificial intelligence to collect ever increasing amounts of real-time information.”

“Distilling and delivering this data back to the team at top speed requires a reliable, secure and scalable connectivity solution.”

“This 5G MPN, drone and additional technology will support Vinny Hammond and his analytics team to quickly breakdown and organise unstructured data and present it back in a clear manner to other coaching staff and management – helping them understand the performance of the plays and overall team, without delay.”

“It’s fantastic to see it in use in the HPC, but we’re also really excited to support the team with 5G connectivity throughout their time at the World Cup in France with our fully kitted Connected Van. Our 5G MPN technology is a demonstration of how technology and connectivity innovation can enhance the business of sport and the performance of teams, bringing added layers of data and analysis to coaches, management, and their players.”

“So much of our roles revolve around moving large quantities of data so we can analyse performance to understand what is working and what is not,” added Hammond.

“Vodafone’s 5G MPN stretches the boundaries of what we can do in terms of how quickly we can analyse multiple high-resolution cameras and drone footage which ultimately informs our decision making. The work John and Alan have done on this project in conjunction with Vodafone and Ericsson has enabled us to push new boundaries at this year’s RWC.”

“Being on our own 5G network also gives us that level of security and reliability that we really need, and we’ll have the added benefit of that connectivity with our 5G Connected Van, linking back to our High Performance centre, to reduce reliance on third party connectivity.”