Smart mouthguard technology is being introduced at all levels of rugby, in addition to increased return-to-play periods, as World Rugby continues with its measures to protect players.
Smart mouthguards have been used sporadically in rugby for some time, but World Rugby is now investing an initial €2million to increase their adoption across the game.
The technology – which will be used in matches and training – will provide in-game alerts to independent pitchside doctors, and will immediately communicate if a player has experienced a head impact.
As part of its ongoing advancement of the Head Injury Assessment (HIA), World Rugby also announced it is extending the return-to-play guidelines for a minimum of 21 days across all levels of the sport.
World Rugby chief medical officer Dr Eanna Falvey said: “The latest scientific research and expert opinion is telling us one thing – reduce the forces players experience on their heads at all levels of the game. That is exactly what we’re doing.
“The advances in smart mouthguard technology mean elite players will be better cared for than ever before.
“We are taking smart mouthguards out of the realm of medical research and putting them into the world of everyday performance management to continue to manage player welfare in the best way possible.”
The new protocol and technology will be introduced in elite women’s competition WXV from October, and will be integrated into the Head Injury Assessment from January 2024.
World Rugby has hailed the move as being key in the continued positive impact of its HIA, which currently has a 90 per cent success rate in diagnosing concussion.
The smart mouthguards, supplied by Prevent Biometrics, are able to work in real time to send alerts of high forces to the independent matchday doctor.
This will, for the first time, enable players who have experienced a high acceleration event, but not shown symptoms or been seen by broadcast cameras, to be taken off and assessed.
Elite rugby players will be required to wear smart mouthguards to be able to use the in game HIA1 test.
The mouthguards will be required in training as well as matches, enabling coaches to better tailor drills, tackle skills and training load for each individual player, and best support their performance and welfare.
The innovation is part of a wider package of changes recommended to World Rugby by its independent Concussion Working Group, and follows the group’s latest meeting this summer in Boston, USA, which heard presentations from world-leading experts including Boston University’s Professor Ann McKee and Dr Chris Nowinski, as well as Prof Grant Iverson of Harvard Medical School.
World Rugby chief executive Alan Gilpin said: “We have always said that World Rugby never stands still on player welfare. This latest phase of welfare-related announcements reinforces the fact that as technology and science-based evidence progresses, we progress alongside it.
“With our latest report suggesting that rugby players lead healthier, happier lives, and participation in rugby up 11 per cent around the world since 2022, people can choose to play rugby knowing that they stand to enjoy all the benefits of this amazing game whilst being as safe as they possibly can be.”
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