Tuesday 22 May 2018

McLaughlin helping to mould Ireland's secret weapon

McLaughlin retired after a concussion in 2015 but by the following February, he had been appointed vice-president of operations at Kitman. He linked up with chief executive and founder Stephen Smith, previously Leinster's head of rehabilitation. Photo: Sportsfile
McLaughlin retired after a concussion in 2015 but by the following February, he had been appointed vice-president of operations at Kitman. He linked up with chief executive and founder Stephen Smith, previously Leinster's head of rehabilitation. Photo: Sportsfile

Charlie Morgan

When analysing why Ireland go into this weekend's game at Twickenham on the verge of a Grand Slam and England do so looking to avoid a third successive defeat, it is impossible to ignore that Joe Schmidt's side look far fresher than their counterparts.

One example of that contrast is the two playmakers, Johnny Sexton and Owen Farrell. Since the Lions tour, Sexton has played just 435 minutes for Leinster while Farrell has amassed a staggering 1,084 minutes of action for Saracens.

Clearly, Ireland are leveraging the advantages of the centrally-contracted set-up. But they also have a weapon, one that tells them which individuals to rest and when. Kitman Labs is proving vital to how the IRFU is managing its human resources, ensuring players peak at vital moments.

Just the faintest trace of mischief laces Kevin McLaughlin's explanation of how data analytics, and specifically his company, have guided what could be a very special season for Irish rugby.

"I think England might be casting one eye across the sea at what Ireland are doing," suggests the former back-rower . "And maybe they'll be leaning more towards a central model over the next couple of years." There is a hint of a grin. "Politics notwithstanding."

McLaughlin retired after a concussion in 2015 but by the following February, he had been appointed vice-president of operations at Kitman. He linked up with chief executive and founder Stephen Smith, previously Leinster's head of rehabilitation.

Clients

From Leinster taking them on in 2012, Kitman has acquired clients from the NBA, the Premier League and the Australian Football League. Their athlete optimisation system aggregates data from various sources, GPS systems or daily body-imaging scans to monitor flexibility, for example, and compares it against injury trends. Teams are notified when players approach danger zones.

McLaughlin started out as an 18-year-old with a history of back and knee problems. Leinster treated him like "a blank canvas" and his body struggled. That's unlikely to happen in the future.

Kitman's contract with the IRFU covers provincial senior and academy groups, the women's national side, Ireland age-group squads and Joe Schmidt's elite. "They now have kids as young as 15 or 16 on the system," McLaughlin adds. "By the time a talented young player wins their first international cap, say James Ryan at the age of 21, they have five years' worth of medical data on them.

"Irish provinces pride themselves on driving a strong culture. Getting an edge with sports science has been a big part of that. It's all helped what is a relatively small rugby nation to be in the top two in the world."

(© Daily Telegraph, London)

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