World Rugby integrates smart mouthguard technology to the Head Injury Assessment as part of new phase of global player welfare measures

  • World Rugby investing an initial €2 million in smart mouthguard technology which will provide in-game alerts to independent pitch-side doctors
  • WXV to debut the technology and approach in October and November
  • Use of mouthguards recommended at all levels of the game across the world
  • Return to play guidelines for community rugby extended to a minimum of 21 days under new guidance
  • World Rugby’s independent concussion working group makes recommendations following presentations from range of world leading experts World Rugby statement on long term neurodegenerative disease also update

World Rugby will advance the Head Injury Assessment (HIA) by introducing in-game alerts from smart mouthguard technology to show if a player has experienced a high level of acceleration which could lead to an injury. The new protocol and technology will be debuted in elite women’s competition WXV from October, and will be integrated into the Head Injury Assessment from January 2024.

World Rugby has been at the forefront of using new technology to manage head injury as part of its ongoing six-point plan to become the most progressive sport in the world on player welfare. That technology has now progressed to become an integral part of the off-field assessment for players, further enhancing the HIA process which currently has a 90 per cent success rate in diagnosing concussion.

World Rugby is investing an initial €2 million to support unions, competitions and clubs with adopting the new smart mouthguard technology supplied by Prevent Biometrics. The smart mouthguards will 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. As a result of the presentations that the independent Working Group heard, World Rugby’s Executive Board has also approved:

  • A recommendation that players at all levels of the sport wear a mouthguard, after research in ice hockey found that as well as protecting against dental injuries, mouthguards can reduce the risk of a concussion by 20 per cent.
  • A review of World Rugby’s guidelines on return to play after a concussion in community rugby, extending the time players will sit out to 21 days. Earlier this year, the international federation took action in the community game by confirming a global opt-in trial of a lower tackle height which will see most community players tackling lower in 2023/4 seasons.
  • An update to World Rugby’s position on long term neurodegenerative disease and repeated head impacts, which acknowledges the importance of focusing not just on concussion but forces to the head which may not cause medical symptoms.

In line with World Rugby’s commitment to openness and transparency, recordings and presentations received by the independent concussion working group in Boston have today been published on World Rugby’s website.

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.”

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.”