Ireland’s Jamie Heaslip has admitted that Irish coaches are paranoid about spies in rugby as teams go to extra lengths to gain any advantage over their opponents.
With data in sport now an integral part of any professional set-up, information on training methods is all on record but it is the more traditional techniques that can catch you out, according to Heaslip.
Before Sunday’s World Cup final between New Zealand and Australia, a picture emerged of Aussie boss Michael Cheika with what appeared to be tactical sheets, with the photographer able to zoom in and clearly capture his plans for the All Blacks.
With notes based around the kick-off strategy, defence and attack, it appeared the Australians were aiming to “rattle” All Black number 8 Kieran Read and targeted wingers Nehe Milner-Skudder and Julien Savea aerially.
Whether it was simply a purposeful move from the wily Cheika or a genuine oversight, it ratcheted up the tensions ahead of battle on the biggest stage of them all.
While Heaslip wasn’t sure if it was a stunt by Cheika, he admits that coaches are as vigilant as possible in such situations.
“Our video analysts in Ireland are still hugely paranoid to the extent that they wouldn’t put any video footage on any sort of national cloud,” said Heaslip at today’s Web Summit in the RDS.
“They literally stick it on a hard drive that they mind, it is on their laptop.”
But while data and digital information is driving professional rugby, it is old school methods that tend to catch you out.
“It’s more old school stupidity to be honest. People leaving sheets of their lineouts and their moves. People leaving sheets of paper lying around. It’s actually old school ways that catch people out more often than not,” added the Kildare native.
“I don’t know (if it was a stunt by Cheika). To be honest, with Cheika it could well be but it could also be an honest mistake.
“There will always be such and such saw this in training that you are doing this. You are constantly getting into snippets of information. The way we operate and the way many companies operate is to worry less about the opposition and more on yourself.”
Heaslip added that the game has changed so much that there are players who played in 2005 who would not adapt to the current game.
The Leinster man cites GPS as the biggest transformation in the professional rugby era.
“We were one of the first northern hemisphere teams to embrace it in 2008. It’s transformed the landscape.
“It completely changed how we trained. Like in business, you learn to tailor you training to actually being on the field – not in the office,” he said.
Reflecting on Ireland’s disappointing World Cup campaign, Heaslip admitted Joe Schmidt’s men let themselves down in the quarter-final defeat to Argentina.
“We let ourselves down in that first ten minutes,” he said.
“I couldn’t be prouder of the group. We fought ourselves back in it and could have won, then it was just a mountain too high for us to climb.
“The support we got, we set a world record in Wembley and then the France game with the roof closed. There were 70,000 Irish there and about 100,000 out on the street. It was the most mental scene I have ever been involved in.”