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Irish rugby legend Brian O’Driscoll on life as a pundit for BT Sport and role of wearable tech in sports

Irish rugby legend Brian O’Driscoll, who recently retired from professional rugby, flew over to London on Friday as part of plans to promote a new partnership for his app Ultimate Rugby, which he co-founded. The Drum caught up with him to ask him about life post-retirement.

Irish rugby legend, BT Sport pundit and Ultimate Rugby co-founder Brian O’Driscoll believes live rugby coverage must be as interactive as possible if it’s to attract the younger generations, and that pundits must continuously seek to develop their own personal brands to stay ahead.

O'Driscoll spoke to The Drum ahead of addressing a host of agency executives at Dentsu Aegis Network’s offices in London to promote a new tie-up between Ultimate Rugby and Mapp Media.

He described the first year after his retirement as having been full of “steep learning curves” as he accustoms himself to life as a BT Sports pundit, but said he will now have more time to dedicate to app Ultimate Rugby which has been "going great guns" for the last few years.

He said the breakneck speed of digital technologies can lend increasing pressure to the job of the sports pundit, adding that they must evolve in sync with changes to stay relevant.

“Digital is changing so much – it’s not even year on year it’s month on month, with new things coming out every week. It’s all around who is coming up with new concepts - the first movers – who are getting the edge in digital, and we are as pundits at BT are all having to evolve as well.”

Social media has opened the floodgates to fans being able to partake in a dialogue with presenters or athletes, and this can create its own challenges.

“There are expectations and ideas that can come at us, so of course there are times you must be conscious you’re making comments with your BT hat on, but at the same time I’ve been somewhat curtailed for last 15 years. It’s nice now to be able to speak on behalf of one person – myself – rather than the whole team. It’s just about trying to find a balance between the two,” he said.

Wearable tech is becoming an increasingly prevalent part of all sports and O'Driscoll believes its use will be even greater in the future as people "crave" more detailed information around players and game tactics.

"I would imagine it’s only a matter of time before the real time data is used more in [rugby] matches. The only issue is that teams aren’t really sharing the information with one another – they are using it for their own purposes. That's because they don’t really want others knowing things like how smart a player is in distance covered. Just becuase someone runs 8K compared to someone who runs 6K in the same position, it doesn’t mean the 8K was the smartest.

"It’s all about trying to balance up the information as to how relevant it is to you and your players, and some teams are happy to swap information and some aren’t. In the end I'm sure it will win through as people want more and more information – they want to see the size of collisions in games, they want to see the distance covered, and the speed of a winner or heart rates of people taking the kick. That’s what people crave – when you see a huge collision you would love to see how many G-force were in it and then compare that to a similar G-force in a car crash for example."

He referenced what BT Sport has brought to the world of live rugby broadcasting, adding that they have "done a great job" providing new and different angles. "It’s interactive which is certainly what younger generations want, its re-enactment demos have been something that has really been picked up on and welcomed by people sititng at home. So that part of things has been fantastic. They have had a good year with numbers and think they have big plans for the next few years," added O'Driscoll.

Ultimate Rugby provides the latest news, real-time live scores, videos, competitions, social media and player interaction. It covers all tier-one rugby in both the Northern and Southern hemispheres, including the RBS 6 Nations, the Rugby Championship, Heineken Cup, Super 15, RaboDirect Pro12 and Aviva Premiership. Its agreement with Mapp Media will see the mobile sales house represent Ultimate Rugby throughout the Rugby World Cup 2015 in the UK, and all build up to it in the next four months.

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