Inside the Crusaders: Planning four years ahead with performance data

2017 Super Rugby champions, the BNZ Crusaders, have been using Catapult for the past six seasons and have full buy-in from academy prospects right through to the club CEO.

Rugby Academy Manager, Stephen van Gruting, and Academy Strength & Conditioning Coach, Aaron Webb, share their insights into how they use performance data to manage new recruits and build familiarity with technology from a young age all the way through to All Blacks players.

Stephan van Gruting (Rugby Academy Manager)


I found out about PlayerTek by Catapult at the 2017 Catapult conference up in Auckland and it was a day of a lot of learning for me. It’s designed to help trainers that don’t necessarily have a sports scientist with them, it’s easy to use, and you get the metrics that you need to get performance out of your players.

For us, the metrics we like to look at the most during pre-season are total running distance, which is a really important one for us to know whether our players are getting their targeted distance in during the week and they’re building resistance for the season coming up.

Along with distance, we’re also looking at top speed and making sure they’re getting sprinting in every week, and the more sprinting they get in, the better it is for us.

The Power Plays are also a big metric for us, so making sure players, whether it’s at training or at a game, that their intensity remains high and they have repeated efforts. It gives you one number and it’s all the players need to know and all the coaches need to know too.

The players are really competitive around what they’re trying to get out of the units. It’s new to a lot of them, so they look at total distance, but the thing they want to see and compare amongst themselves is top speed. That’s the one where they’re always asking “how fast did you run today?” and “how many metres did you sprint for today?”.

We chose PlayerTek by Catapult because it can relate to the players as well. It’s easy to download the information – you plug it in and play. For me, I’ve got 20 players that I monitor and within 10 minutes I’ve got all their data well displayed, it’s easy to read, and I can show the players as well. They can log in and see what they’ve done in a session, and the key thing for us was that we might not see them on a Tuesday or Thursday when they’re at club training or when they’re at school, but now with PlayerTek by Catapult we can give them the units and they take them away, and when we load it up I can see exactly what they’ve done without me being there. You get a whole Monday to Sunday view of their load.

I think the way to manage their injury risk with all their different loads is just being aware of all their different things. So if they’re playing cricket, or they’re playing rugby, or any other sport as well, it’s important for us to know the intensity those different trainings are at. So having PlayerTek by Catapult and being able to send the units out with the players, we get an overview of everything they’re doing.

For us, we’re trying to build that player pathway, and for the players to experience what it’s like to be a Crusader, or the professional way of life, it gives them a taste of it. So having the PlayerTek by Catapult units and giving them experience with it, when they move up and down, they’ve already trained with it before and they know what it’s like. It’s an easy and seamless transition for them.

Aaron Webb (Academy Strength & Conditioning Coach)


We have 35 athletes in our Crusaders academy, one in Christchurch and one in Nelson. They’re all aged between 18 and 22 years old, and they’re all invited into the program.

We have an extensive talent identification program that works right across mainly the schoolboy level, and from there we identify the players we want.

We’re working about 3-4 years ahead at any time, so right now we’re planning our team for four years down the track. Looking positionally and what requirements we need in each position, and then identifying and securing the talent from there.

PlayerTek has helped in a number of different ways, but one of the key things we’ve really experienced is trying to grow our athletes to understand all of the metrics when they get to the professional level. So having the units within our program is allowing us to teach our young athletes what is going to measured now, but also when they start playing professional rugby. So when they become Crusaders, they don’t have the stress of having to learn the metrics. They’re already familiar with it and know what the sports scientists are talking about.

We want to use PlayerTek by Catapult to differentiate the more experienced development athletes we have and the new, so when the new guys come in they’ve been training at a level that is pretty average across their schoolboy output, so when they come to our environment, they get to see our year three players working at a much higher level. They get to see their metrics and what is measured on them, they get to see their own and understand there’s quite a big gap between the two, and I think that gives them a pretty good indication of what level they need to train at.

Before PlayerTek by Catapult, it was a case of observing and maybe talking to each other, but there was no scientific understanding of what the differences were, but now we can clearly show a player at that level, and one that’s maybe two years ahead of them.

Having the data is absolutely critical for us to improve performance, not only for the players, but the coaches can also start to assess where these players are at in terms of whether they’re ready to go at the level we need them to, or are they still training at a lower level. And then we want to advance the athlete’s understanding, so as they go further through our program we introduce more metrics to them.