World Rugby issues response after Gregor Townsend’s criticism of ‘unproven’ technology

Colin Newboult
Gregor Townsend Scotland head coach during the 2024 Six Nations.

Gregor Townsend Scotland head coach during the 2024 Six Nations.

World Rugby are “confident” that the implementation of smart mouthguards will prove to be a success, despite reservations from some players and coaches.

Mandated worldwide for elite competitions by the governing body on January 1, the new mouthguards measure the impacts of tackles and hits.

Using Bluetooth technology, it sends signals to the matchday doctors on the sidelines, who will then request that individuals go off for a head injury assessment if it has gone over a certain threshold.

That happened a few times over the weekend, including in the Scotland v England Six Nations clash when Zander Fagerson was forced to leave the field for a HIA.

Townsend’s concerns

Head coach Gregor Townsend has been critical and is concerned that rugby is “trusting technology that has not been proven,” but World Rugby insists that everything has been tested thoroughly.

“That is to put it into perspective regarding how rare and small these numbers are in terms of the players coming off. For a player to be removed, it means they have sustained a really big knock,” the governing body’s science and medical manager Lindsay Starling said.

“We are confident in the data that comes from the mouthguards and confident in the technology. We wouldn’t be introducing this on such a large scale if we weren’t confident in the data that is coming from them.

“From research we’ve done over the last few years, we have essentially identified a threshold whereby any impact that is occurring to a player above that threshold, it is very likely that the player displays signs of clinical concussion.

“Past this (threshold), the players are sustaining really big impacts. They are in the top 0.1 per cent of impact events.

“When a player is being removed during a match because of a notification that has come from the mouthguard, that is because the player has sustained an impact above this threshold and needs to be removed and checked out by a medical professional.”

There were also criticisms in the southern hemisphere after the opening round of the 2024 Super Rugby Pacific season.

The mouthguards were being trialled for the first time in that competition and Anton Lienert-Brown and Quinten Strange were both left bemused when they were taken off for HIAs during the Chiefs v Crusaders match.


“We see this as a real game-changer. It enables us to understand information about the players that we have never known before and cannot know just from observing,” Starling said.

“We’ve known for the last decade-plus that concussion is a topic that requires a huge amount of attention.

“Over the last few years that narrative has changed slightly to encompass all head-impact events, all head-acceleration events, not just those that manifest in clinical symptoms such as concussion.

“Anything of this magnitude requires time, and a huge part of this is around education that needs to be done with all stakeholders in the game.

“This year we will be instrumenting over 8,000 rugby players with this technology. I think everyone does understand why this is being done, and that is purely for the welfare of players.”

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