Crunching the Numbers – Interview with the All Blacks' Analyst
by Tracey Nelson
23 Jun 2007
Andrew Sullivan is the All Blacks’ Technical (Video) Analyst and rejoined the All Blacks prior to the 2006 season after a previous stint as the team analyst in 20022003. He has also been the Crusaders and Canterbury video analyst and IT co-ordinator since 2001. I caught up with him prior to the All Blacks’ Tri-Nations test against the Springboks in Christchurch to find out a little more about the role of a rugby Technical Analyst.
How has game analysis evolved in the last few years?Are we at the point where there are no surprises left on the field?
At the end of the day the game of rugby won’t change, and the different systems around the world all achieve the same results. They’ve got the ability to recall any bit of footage that’s coded, basically. The joy of what we in NZ use is that it’s coded in great detail and we can pull anything out since 1999 and the template hasn’t changed much in that time for New Zealand.
Does having the ANZC, Super 14 and All Blacks all using the same system give us an advantage over some other rugby nations?
Absolutely. You can’t cross between the different systems and it was the foresight of the NZRU in 1999 to do it nationwide. They subsidise it through the high performance units across the franchises and the ANZC teams.
How have relationships with South Africa changed over the years?
It’s changed remarkably. When I started with Super 12 in 2002 I didn’t know any of the other analysts. It wasn’t until a few years ago that we started to break down those barriers and it certainly makes the job a lot easier. With the South African Super 14 teams and The Force using the same system, we’ve got the ability to use the same footage, so instead of two analysts duplicating and doing the same job twice it makes sense to work together and farm the footage so we can share. Coaches have broken down those barriers in the six years I’ve been involved, and you can see the benefits of doing that because in 2002 there was no sharing and we weren’t allowed to talk to anyone which just made your job so much harder.But the other side of that is the broadcaster in South Africa (Super Sport) and the broadcaster in New Zealand (SKY) they understand what we’re trying to achieve and basically open their doors and help us work what we can.We’re lucky, because SKY is so good.Because Australia is league and AFL oriented, their camera men have that kind of background, and their producers/directors change their interpretations and the camera angles change.
What is the role of the Analyst on game day?
Game day starts at about 2pm, setting up and getting ready to go to the ground at 5pm for a 7.30pm game. For the All Blacks I travel in an advance party of four about two and a half hours before the game, get to the ground and set up about three laptops in the TV truck.
We record an Angle Cam which is side-on wide and Camera 2 which is side-on close-up – which are the ones you mainly see on TV and give us the most information. We also record an end-on view which is a close feed as well, you’ll see that quite often. It’s not the same end-on they use for the TMO decisions, it’s an elevated view so we can see depth. We also record our own end-on which is wide, so we can see at least half the field at a time. With the All Blacks we also do reverse-angle scrums, we’ve got a chap just doing scrums and at half time he’ll come down and give the camera to one of our support staff who will take it across to our scrum coach (Mike Cron). He reviews it so he can talk to our front row at half time.
And once the game has kicked off?
During the game I sit with the coaches. Live there is always a delayed feed so we have a TV which plays live but also a laptop with a time-warp attached to that delaying the feed by about 20 seconds. The coach will watch play on the field and we can also watch it 20 seconds later on the laptop. So he can see the replays on the live TV, but also catch the replays again 20 seconds later on the laptop. Sometimes we stream live up to the coaches’ box so they’ll have another laptop that has an end-on live view so they can see that section as well.
I also code lines so that if the coach says I want to see that scrum from 10 minutes ago I can click a button and he can watch a move, or breach, or try, or whatever.I’ve got the referee’s microphone in my ear so I’m filtering out the stuff the coaches don’t need to hear, and relaying calls.You can quite often pick up the lineout calls from us and the opposition.
What happens after the game?
After the game it’s just a matter of collecting all the footage so walking around with a stack of laptops. That’s just got one file of the whole game, normally about two and half hours long, and what we do is extract out the halves to save disc space and bring it back to the hotel.From there it’s replicated across the coaches’ laptops, players’ laptops and analysis laptops, then we wait for the code from Verusco to come through usually about 3 or 4am.
Verusco are based in Palmerston North and have 6 to 8 people normally coding a game which takes about 36 man-hours, but they have their best people working for the All Blacks so it only takes 3-4 hours, or sometimes up to 5. For a Super 14 game it’s 6 hours, but of course with the Super 14 there are seven games a weekend so with three games on a Saturday night if you’re playing last then you get your code last, sometimes not till the Sunday night. There’s no preferential treatment for the New Zealand teams because South Africa and The Force take the code as well so there’s no favoritism.
Verusco record their own footage and then code it on their clip, so when they send their file through to me I have different footage so I have to line every view up with their codes which is just a matter of going through check points every five plays and saying that’s where the play starts. It’s four or five views, sometimes six. It’s not hard, just time consuming and then you have to replicate it across the various laptops. Saturday night through to Monday morning is my busiest time and it’s pretty common to do 11 or 12 hour days at that stage of the week.
That’s quite a workload under what I imagine would be very time-driven pressure, so what drives you in your job?
I do. I push myself.I have pretty high standards and I hate letting people down.It’s one of my bug bears.
Is the information you gather the same for both the Super 14 and the All Blacks?
The information used varies greatly between the Crusaders and the All Blacks, because each coach and team have different tasks they measure for outcomes, and different KPIs (Key Performance Indicators). So for the Crusaders I’ve got an access database that I import the raw lines of code from Verusco and manipulate it into lines of information that mean something to our players and coaches. With the All Blacks it’s the same situation but different information.So while the KPIs are totally different, the way I get the information is the same.
How do the All Black team prepare for a game?
On a Monday we do a Preview/Need to Know session so the guys know what the focus is for the week. Steve (Hansen) briefs us on the Monday normally. We’ve got the ability through the Verusco system to extract clips for them, and little clipets of play and we can string those all together and show those at the debrief. They’re also available on the players’ laptops for players to go over in greater detail. Tuesday is defence, so Graham reviews our past defensive records and also looks at the next opposition and how they’re going to attack us. Wednesday is attack, specifically on how we’re going to play.
What do the players get to see when they come to the laptops?
It’s up to the individual. They know the game is coded in great detail with 36 man hours it’s not just a tackle, it’s a left shoulder tackle and there are 10 different qualities of a tackle from the turnover to the hit. They know it’s all coded so they can click on a number and it will show them everything that’s been coded for. Or they can go and look up their tackles, or just their breaches, our lineouts, or the opposition lineouts. They can extract anything they like.
So how much time would players spend looking over their own game?
Surprisingly little, because they can do it so easily that in a matter of 10 minutes you’ve viewed all of your tackles. Take Richie for example, if he’s made 10 tackles he’ll take a couple of minutes over each one. Probably they spend a half hour to an hour a couple of times a week. Plus they’ll also go with the specialist coaches, like for lineouts and scrums etc.For example, before the Bok test in Christchurch the scrum coach went throughout the Super 14 and internationals extracting their scrummaging traits so he’ll go through those traits with the applicable players who are playing that weekend.
Comparing coaches, who spends the most time going through game footage – Robbie Deans or Graham Henry?
It’s pretty hard as they do it behind closed doors so I don’t know 100%. With Robbie, he’s a two-man band with a couple of specialists who come in when required so he’s got to go through everything. But with Graham. he’s got not just only the team performance but he’s specifically looking at defence so he’ll go over the defence, while Wayne Smith will look over just the attack footage, and Steve Hansen does the forwards, while Mike Cron just concentrates on scrum footage.
Leading into the World Cup, how do the All Blacks go about analyzing their pool opposition.For example, Portugal and Romania are not likely to be the biggest threats but how difficult is it to analyse their play?
You can always source footage so we’ve got stuff to look at, but without knowing too much I’m sure we’ll be focusing on our own game for those pool matches. The coaches will have a wary eye on the future and what’s going on around us so we know what the other opposition teams are doing.
How will our TV feeds and linkages work in France?
Because the games are played on TV back in New Zealand, Verusco have access to the footage and they’ll do their coding so nothing changes there. But all the international teams in France will record their footage off the French feed, and everyone then has their own analysis systems and coding from there. I know the Canadians are also using Verusco now, but South Africa use ProZone, the Aussies use FairPlay etc.
Will it be business as usual as the All Blacks prepare for each game during the World Cup?
If you look at the structure of our week now, it will never change or very rarely change. You’ve always got a debrief, a preview of how the opposition are going to play, and how we’re going to play against them. Every squad member has to prepare to play.Look at Troy Flavell this season, half an hour before a test and he’s coming on for Robbo (Keith Robinson).It’s a reminder that it can happen and the players have to be prepared.