Flood of rugby info at cup

Obsessed rugby fans and deadline-pressed journalists are being well served with game information at this year’s Rugby World Cup.

Fans are being deluged with statistics and cup information through the tournament’s website, but that’s only a subset of what’s available to the media.

The website, offers visitors masses of game and country statistics, video, audio and photographs from this and previous tournaments.

It also offers the essential merchandise through the site’s shop.

Through an intranet and extranet, reporters at the event can access detailed progress of play in matches under way, such as analysis of rucks and mauls, and possession of ball and territory.

Unisys created and deployed the database and networks as its sponsorship contribution to the World Cup. The work of 15 or more developers for six months was involved.

More than 300 laptops and desktops are hooked into the cup’s data networks, also providing a base for reporters to write and edit their stories.

Snap quotes collected from the players before and after the match can be drawn on for media reports.

The system is Microsoft throughout, using SQL databases, Content Management Server and .Net for the final placement of words, numbers and graphics on the screen.

Play during each game is encoded in real time by statisticians using a specially designed touch-tablet.

Teams are listed in columns down the sides of the tablet and possible events and a small “map” of the field in the middle. Two taps of a stylus will record an event of play — a score, a tackle, a foul — and attach it to the name of the player concerned.

Scrums, lineouts, rucks, mauls and possession, and movement on the field in a more general sense are also recorded blow-by-blow through the tablets.

Some 1500 staff are being employed to detail matches and other data, using an SSL-protected virtual private network, which includes Nortel Networks and Check Point technology.

The intellectual property of the database belongs to the International Rugby Board, who delivered a rare instruction to Unisys — “they wanted legacy”, says Unisys project controller Antony Harrowell.

The IRB wanted a system it could use in future tournaments and where accumulated historical information would be passed down.

The code belongs to Unisys and is licensed exclusively to the IRB. But adapting the system to other games such as rugby league or soccer would require extensive rework, Harrowell says.

For its efforts Unisys gets worldwide exposure of the company logo for 15 seconds per game, plus time whenever the score changes.

- Stephen Bell travelled to Sydney courtesy of Unisys

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