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March 8, 2017updated 09 Mar 2017 4:23pm

Six Nations rugby and digital disruption – enable digital

By John Oates

The Six Nations Championship, the annual rugby competition, might seem like an unlikely candidate to be hit by digital disruption.

The competition evolved from the Home Nations competition which has run, with some interruptions, since 1882.

The first standardised rules for rugby were agreed in 1870. There have been changes over time of course most recently to high tackle rules and line-outs but the modern game would be well understood by a Victorian observer.

Despite the long history rugby is no slouch when it comes to embracing technology – referees have been using instant video replays since 2001.

On Sunday the competition underdogs Italy found a way to massively upset defending champions England thanks to blue sky tactical thinking rather than technology.

They found a radical way to exploit the offside rules which left England so confused that some players even resorted to asking the referee for help – he responded rather brilliantly with: “I’m a referee not a coach…”.

In the end Italy suffered the fate of many a disruptive business start-up and were ground down by England, but for the early minutes of the game it looked like they had found a serious gap in the defending champions’ armour.

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Some fans, and England manager Eddie Jones, might not have liked it but Italy used the rules to play a different kind of game, one which they had more chance of winning.
Digital disruption can do the same thing.

It can change the rules for business, not just make business more efficient.
And think about the business reaction to budget airlines, online booksellers, even online news providers when they first arrived. The incumbents rubbished them before being forced to copy them.

We might not see England refusing to ruck in their next game like Italy did.
But it is a salutary lesson for even the longest established business that there can still be an entirely unexpected, left field challenge to the very basic rules which everyone thought were inviolate.

And in business there is no referee to complain to.

Maybe we should remember that the mythical start of rugby was when someone called William Webb-Ellis got bored playing football and decided to pick up the ball and run with it…
Rules are there to be challenged and business technology can make this ever easier.

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