“You’re very kind to say I’m at the top of my game; I’m sure a lot of people have written me off,” said Jamie Heaslip having been introduced by the Guardian’s Head of Sport Ian Prior on Web Summit Centre Stage.
The title of his talk was ‘From sports star to tech star’. Jamie is still very much a sports star.
He’s a three-time Heineken Cup winner with Leinster Rugby and he’s got another three Six Nations medals with Ireland.
For a big man, he doesn’t half have a step.
Having endured an up-and-down World Cup tournament with Ireland, Ian asked Jamie about the squad’s quarter-final exit at the hands of Argentina:
“This is the first time I’ve actually talked about that.
“It was a rollercoaster.
“We were upset to be knocked out in the way that we did.
“We let ourselves down in that first ten minutes,” he said, referring to the concession of two tries within the first ten minutes of the match.
Having fought back into that match, it was just “too big a mountain to climb,” he said.
He’s also now a tech investor with a stake in a number of companies, including Kitman Labs – they’re using data to help optimise sports teams’ performance:
“While it was a great idea, it was the more people i was interested in – the dynamic.
“That inspired me to invest in them,” he said.
Very much a hands-on investor, Jamie told us that he’s “constantly on the phone” to the Kitman Labs team, going through quarterly reviews and trying to strengthen their team.
Again self-deprecatingly, he said that he’s aware of his blindspots and that he’s a “big believer in assembling the best possible team”:
“At the end of the day, I’ve been throwing a piece of leather around for ten years.
“I don’t have a rashers (about a lot of things) and that’s ok,” he joked.
When asked whether he’s able to bring rugby’s “hyper-aggressive approach” to business, he said there are a few parallels:
“We literally have to run into people for 80 minutes every week. To want to put your body on the line for your team, your head has to be right,” he told the Web Summit audience.
Tech’s influence on rugby has been seismic, according to Jamie. He told us the sport is almost a different game to when he first started playing: “the collisions; the hits; the amount of time the ball’s in play”.
The use of GPS tracking in rugby training has brought about the biggest change in the sport. He praised Michael Cheika – now head coach at World Cup runners-up Australia – for introducing the tech to Leinster:
“We were one of the first northern hemisphere teams to embrace it in 2008.
“It’s transformed the landscape.
“It completely changed how we trained. Like in business, you learn to tailor you training to actually being on the field – not in the office,” he said.
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