Welshman's analysis adding value to All Blacks
He has become known as the fourth man in the coaches' box. But just who is the guy sitting next to Graham Henry, Wayne Smith and Steve Hansen on test nights? And what does he actually do?
His name is Alistair Rogers and his story is the stuff of every Kiwi kid's dreams – aside of course from the fact that he's Welsh.
Rogers grew up in the industrial town of Port Talbot, in South Wales, idolising All Blacks such as Michael Jones, Wayne Shelford, Mike Brewer and Sean Fitzpatrick.
But at 23, Neath's young openside could see his dream of becoming a professional player slipping away.
So in 1999 he packed up his boots, paid his own airfare and headed to Wellington for six months with the Western Suburbs club.
It started a journey that would take him all the way to the All Blacks' coaching box, where he is now the team's performance analyst.
It helped that he met his future wife, Katie, but even after returning to Britain to round out his playing days as a professional and help start up an IT company, Rogers always knew he would settle in New Zealand.
"What started out as a six-month rugby OE lasted two years," he said this week. "I knew straight away this was where I'd end up. As soon as I came here it felt right."
In a nutshell, Rogers is a guy with an IT background, but with added value.
He's actually been in the All Blacks coaches' box for years, but was previously in the background.
"I felt I was there in case anything went wrong," he laughs. "Like a lead coming out of the wall."
His value of course was, and is, far greater than plugging laptops into the Sky TV truck outside the ground to ensure all five camera angles are available to the coaches during tests.
So valued has his contribution been that Rogers has become the fourth set of eyes analysing video of an allocated area of the game during tests and throwing suggestions at the coaching panel.
But most of his work occurs before kickoff. He cuts, splices and sorts footage and statistics, analyses the information, then presents it to the coaches.
His point of difference, he believes, is that he does more than simply collect a mass of evidence and leave it on a desk.
"I just saw opportunities. I saw the ability to use the technology better. I didn't think people were using it to help performance," he explains.
"I didn't want to be someone who would just say, `here are the stats', because when they asked you a question on it you needed to understand what you had given them. That was where I thought there might be a place for [change]. And it just grew from there."
Rogers used his IT background to break into the professional rugby environment, but it is his knowledge of the game that added value.
Early on he targeted footage he thought coaches didn't have time to look at and took it to meetings already prepared.
It began with a part-time role with Wellington under then coach Aussie McLean in 2006 and quickly progressed to the Hurricanes with Colin Cooper.
In 2007, the All Blacks came calling and he provided backup for a one-off test against France in Wellington.
After the ill-fated 2007 World Cup, Rogers applied for a fulltime job with the All Blacks and, after detailing his vision to assistant Wayne Smith, he was in.
"For the first year I tried just to be accepted and learn and do my role, but I also did a lot of homework and I knew where I wanted to go with it and where I wanted to take it.
"I spent some time with Smithy and said this is where I think we can go and where we can improve. I said I want to change the way we use the technology and he agreed."
The big change has been how the All Blacks look at live analysis during matches.
"We used to have a delay where we could look at the game then refer back to a delay of 15 seconds. That process was fine. For me, though, I wanted to be able to go back to the first or second scrum of the game, but we didn't have that ability."
The coaches can now trace a trend during a match and then, hopefully, make the necessary changes.
Similar immediacy has been introduced to the training pitch, where every move is caught on video.
Players can now view packaged video from training on the bus on the way back to the hotel while it is fresh in their minds.
Rogers has introduced an extended pole with a camera that provides a bird's-eye view.
"I saw that at American football a few years ago and thought it was a good idea because at a lot of our training venues we don't have elevation. It's ideal for skill acquisition, technical stuff.
"Everything is cut. We have the ability to watch the training on the bus. As soon as we finish everyone can look at it."
The footage can be used by the coaching staff to correct players' positional play during new plays and patterns or technical details in contact.
Rogers calls it the "devil in the detail" that can give a side an edge, but he is always wary of getting bogged down in analysis.
The Dominion Post