Every sport undergoes an evolution of sorts and Rugby Union is no different. It seems that every time we turn around the various governing bodies have implemented yet more rules.

While some of them are debatable, others are designed to increase player safety and welfare and that’s all something we can get behind.

So, with the Six Nations wrapped up for another year, one thing was quite evident as week after week, we saw various players sporting Smart Mouthguards.

It’s not something I was particularly familiar with but my curiosity was piqued and so off I went to research the latest development in the great sport.

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What Are Smart Mouthguards?

The technical name for them is ‘Instrumented Mouthguard technology’ and they have become an innovative tool in rugby union for enhancing player safety and performance tracking.

2024 was the first year that the tech was officially implemented. Players across all six unions were able to use the custom-fitted mouthguards which have been designed to deliver in-game alerts as an indication for off field HIA1 assessments.

Despite their size, they are equipped with sensors that can measure and record impact force, direction, and location on a player’s head during a game or practice session.

Basically, if a player gets hit or tackled, the mouth guard can track the impact.

That data is then relayed to the officials and medical team in real time during a game.

Once analysed, it is used to detect patterns that might indicate increased risk to the player allowing coaches and medical staff to intervene appropriately.

As an example, during the 2024 Six Nations, when playing for Scotland, George Turner’s mouthguard alerted medical staff to a potential problem.

He was then called off the field, assessed for a HIA (head injury assessment) before being cleared and allowed to return to the game.

It’s an incredible piece of tech so who makes it and can you buy one? Or is just for the professionals?

Who Makes Smart Gum Shields And Mouthguards?

Several companies have ventured into the production of smart mouthguards and gumshields.

Notable names include HitIQ, Prevent Biometrics, OPRO+, and FITGuard. Each brand tends to offer unique features or focuses on specific aspects of safety and performance analysis.

The sensor technology is simply staggering. If, like so many rugby players, you are not playing for your country, you can still buy one. HitIQ consumer mouthguards start at $599 but are currently only available in Australia.

OPRO make the Prevent Instrumented Mouthguard and are the official supplies for World Rugby including those used in the Six Nations.

While they do supply top range mouthguards across a wide range of age and sports, the smart technology is only available at professional level through governing bodies.

Impact on Safety

The primary goal of smart mouthguards is to improve player safety by providing real-time data on head impacts.

This can:

  • Help in the immediate identification of potentially concussive or harmful impacts
  • Contribute to the development of better concussion management protocols
  • Influence coaching strategies to minimise risky plays
  • Aid in the long-term tracking of player health, potentially reducing the risk of chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE)

Though the evidence on their effectiveness in reducing injuries is still emerging, the potential for these devices to contribute to a safer playing environment is significant.

Their ability to provide immediate and accurate data on head impacts can help in making more informed decisions regarding a player’s health and safety on the field.

Other Wearable Tech In Rugby

Of course smart mouthguards are the not the only wearable tech used by professional rugby players.

We’ve all seen the imprint of the little boxes on their back of players jerseys. These are actually tracking devices.

These GPS trackers are typically worn in a vest underneath the jersey and measure distance covered, speed, acceleration, and deceleration.

All of that info is then fed back and provides valuable data on a player’s physical output during games and training sessions. So if you’re not pulling your weight, the coach knows!

Also in the mix of wearable tech is the use of smart fabrics and clothing.

These include built-in sensors for monitoring various physiological and biomechanical metrics.

The jerseys can measure muscle activity, breathing rate, and even predict fatigue levels, offering insights into a player’s condition and performance capabilities.

So the next time you see your countrymen and women run on to the rugby pitch, just consider how much time went into creating the entire kit!

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