Trends come and go in sport, but data's ramped-up role in rugby and the benefits teams stand to gain from it are here to stay.

That's according to New Zealand strength and conditioning coach Nic Gill, who is ever seeking an edge over the competition after more than a decade of working with the three-time world champions.

It's a huge undertaking, attempting to continuously improve a team that's reigned for much of the modern era as kings of their industry, and the factors separating failure and success are now closer than ever.

Gill appeared as part of a virtual press conference announcing New Zealand Rugby's official partnership with Wattbike—including the Black Ferns—who provide training equipment for many elite sports teams.

How that technology is put to use remains a key factor, however, and Gill's belief in Wattbike is centred around its "super high" accuracy compared to competitors when it comes to assessing his athletes.

"Data is something that we love. In international sport, the margins are really small in terms of success; winning versus losing," Gill said.

Nic Gill has been the head of New Zealand's strength and conditioning department since 2008 (

Image:

Phil Walter/Getty Images for New Zealand Rugby)

"And so a lot of our decisions, our programming is based on numbers, and Wattbike gives us amazing detail.

"Even just the balance between left and right legs. We often will have an athlete that might tell us his knee's feeling fine, and we can actually do a little bit of an honesty check on him without him even knowing, by getting him to ride the bike at a certain percentage of effort.

"And we can straight away see the asymmetry across limbs, meaning that his knee's not quite 100 per cent because there's a 15 per cent deficit, left versus right.

"So the detailed data and the ability to use that information to make good decisions is probably the biggest draw."

Rich Baker is CEO of Wattbike, who recently announced an official partnership with New Zealand Rugby

Rich Baker, the CEO of Wattbike, explained it was Super League outfit Wigan Warriors who were among the first teams to embrace the product as a means of aiding recovery between games.

Fast forward to today and the Wattbike is a common sighting in many elite training setups.

Rugby's development as a professional sport is evident in how the athletes themselves have changed over time, with the average player now generally expected to be stronger and faster than previous generations.

Squads are, by and large, spending more time than ever before training in a gym setting, and Gill has witnessed that progression during a coaching career with the All Blacks dating back to 2008.

New Zealand boast some of the biggest elite players on the planet, not just in terms of profile but in physical presence, though Gill can see that upward trend in athlete size hitting a plateau some time in the future.

New Zealand are using data as a means to maintain their place atop the international rugby pile (

Image:

Getty Images)

Brodie Retallick, for example, reportedly shed a few pounds from his 123-kilogram frame during a recent stint in Japan, but the 6'7" lock swiftly regained that mass following his return to New Zealand rugby.

Using the Chiefs powerhouse as an example, Gill said he could envision the average player frame changing if the sport demands a fitter, leaner specimen: "The ironic thing is Brodie's put that weight back on now he's in the All Blacks.

"He lost a little bit of weight over the season in Japan, playing a different sort of rugby.

"So I think typically what we see around body weight is it depends on the game plan of the team and the style of competition they're in. And I think the size of the athletes, the humans, has gone up and up and up.

"I've been with the All Blacks for 14 years now, and our forwards have probably gained a kilo a year on average. It's frightening how big they've got, and I do think in time we'll definitely see a plateau in that, but it will depend on how the game changes.

The All Blacks and Black Ferns have cemented a partnership with Wattbike as their official performance bike supplier

"So if the governing bodies of the game make some tweaks [to the rules], there may be some changes in size, for sure."

Not only the physical aspects of a modern rugby player are worlds apart from their predecessors, either, as Gill stressed the mental changes and more professional approach required to succeed today.

It was once the case early on in his tenure with New Zealand that while players "thought they were professionals and wanted to be paid like professionals," they didn't bring the right approach to training.

That's no longer the case, however, as Gill considers it a change in the players' ethos: "I think you actually see that in retired players, too.

"I know a lot of retired players from the nineties and early 2000s who didn't enjoy training, they enjoyed rugby. So when they stopped playing rugby, they got out of shape.

New Zealand were crowned back-to-back world champions in 2011 and 2015 (

Image:

Getty)

"Whereas now, I genuinely see most of our athletes enjoy training, enjoy being fit and enjoy being strong. And when they stop being a rugby player, they'll remain fit.

"So there's definitely a greater appreciation of what it takes to be a professional."

The world will get another chance to see just how Gill's work with the All Blacks is taking effect when they face South Africa in the fifth round of the Rugby Championship on Saturday.

As well as being the 100th meeting between two of rugby's most revered institutions, the Test in Townsville could see New Zealand get their hands on the Rugby Championship for the first time since 2018.

The world's top-ranked team keeps a lot of things simple in their ongoing effort for rugby domination, but the All Blacks' willingness to adapt with the times is another key tool in their arsenal.

Nic Gill was speaking at the announcement for Wattbike's new official partnership with New Zealand Rugby.

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