Underscoring the continued commitment to furthering head injury prevention in rugby, World Rugby is partnering with New Zealand Rugby, the University of Otago and Prevent Biometrics to undertake a ground-breaking study to understand the nature and frequency of head impacts in men’s and women’s community and age-grade rugby.

In what could be a game-changer for the sport, more than 700 male and female adult, under-18, under-15 and under-13 community level players will participate in the study, which will start next month.

Each participant will wear Prevent Biometrics’ impact monitoring mouthguard, which has an impact recording accuracy of more than 95 per cent. The data gathered under control conditions at the University of Otago, combined with time-coded video analysis, will provide the largest bank of comparable data ever undertaken in any sport worldwide.

The mouthguards contain a data acquisition system that, in real-time, collects and wirelessly transmits count, load, location, direction, linear and rotational motion every time there is a collision.

The study will help World Rugby further understand the nature of head impacts at the respective community levels, to measure what is happening to the brain during any impact in match and training environments versus normal, non-contact activity. This will assist with making recommendations to further inform rugby’s injury-prevention strategies as World Rugby continues its research-led drive to protect players at all levels of the game.

World Rugby Chief Medical Officer Dr Éanna Falvey said: “Player welfare continues to be our top priority. By continually commissioning and partnering in research, we can make evidence-based decisions that will advance our understanding of injuries in the sport and more importantly, inform the moves that we can make to reduce them.

“We have been monitoring instrumented mouthguard technology for some time, and rapid advances in the sensitivity can now make it possible to distinguish between a head impact, a jump or shouting for example, which is important to the integrity of the research.

“The scale of this landmark study, undertaken in partnership with New Zealand Rugby, the University of Otago and Prevent Biometrics, should not be underestimated. It will provide the largest-ever comparable set of data to compare community rugby from the perspective of men’s and women’s and age-grade participation.

“I would like to thank the three parties for partnering with us on this important and unique study. Having all the matches and training taking place under the same conditions will provide an important benchmark for considering the data.”

New Zealand Rugby Research Scientist Concussion Danielle Salmon added: “This is a great initiative and New Zealand Rugby are proud to be at the forefront of world-leading research around player welfare and injury prevention. This research will help lay the foundation to better understanding the number and nature of head impacts in both male and female players across all levels of community rugby.

“The results of this study will help us better understand where impacts are happening and who is most at risk so we can continue to make informed decisions around coaching, injury prevention and the game so we can make it as safe as possible for our participants.”

Details of the study were announced at the World Rugby Player Welfare and Laws Symposium, which is being held virtually this week and has gathered more than 1,200 members of the rugby family for a packed week of updates and discussion.

Associate Professor Melanie Bussey from the University of Otago’s School of Physical Education, Sport and Exercise Sciences, who presented at the symposium, said: “Collaborating with World Rugby on such a large research study is a great opportunity for our expert researchers who lead world-class scientific facilities. The University of Otago undertakes research of the highest quality and robust scientific analysis is vital to properly understanding head impacts and injuries, and for finding ways of advancing welfare and safety. As sports scientists, we’re very excited to be helping players across the world. The University of Otago is proud to be adding our knowledge and expertise to this important partnership.”

Prevent Biometrics CEO Mike Shogren added: “Prevent Biometrics is honoured to be selected as the head impact monitoring system for this landmark study. Prevent’s patented system has been independently validated by leaders in head impact research across a number of sports for its accuracy and for the quality of its data. Prevent has also focused on making the system easy to use and manage, with top fitting and comfortable mouthguards. Accurate and usable data is critical to helping sports governing bodies like World Rugby drive decisions to advance the welfare of players and to demonstrate how head impact monitoring can be used more broadly in rugby.” 

Prevent Biometrics Chief Science Officer Adam Bartsch PhD PE said: “World Rugby must be considered a leader on player welfare issues. The independent data collected by this leading group of scientists, doctors and researchers will support World Rugby’s goals to teach proper technique, validate rules changes and training practices, as well as protect the younger generations against excessive impacts or dangerous play for years to come.”

ABOUT PREVENT BIOMETRICS: Prevent Biometrics (Minneapolis, MN, USA) was founded in 2015 to accurately monitor head impacts in athletes and military members so that stakeholders can make data-driven decisions about collision health and safety. Prevent commercialised patented technology from the Cleveland Clinic and is the premier impact monitoring solution, proven out by independent laboratory testing, peer reviewed publications and ongoing use around the world. http://preventbiometrics.com

Photos: Prevent Biometrics