July 22, 2021

SWA collaborate with the RFU and PRL on ground breaking study to understand head impact in elite rugby game

SWA are proud to have collaborated with the RFU and PRL regarding a research project, to evaluate the level of head impact exposure in men’s and women’s elite rugby in England. A discovery research project was successfully conducted with Sports & Wellbeing Analytics (SWA) and Harlequins men’s and Bristol Bears women’s squads in March of this year.

Players from both squads wore the PROTECHT system’s instrumented mouthguards with embedded accelerometers and gyroscopes, able to measure linear and rotational accelerations of the head, in matches and training. Taking place over a month, output from the instrumented mouthguards was matched with video footage to provide the first detailed description of head impact exposure during elite adult rugby training and matches. 

Outcomes from the initial project indicate that:

  • Male players experienced a higher volume of contacts in both training and competition than their female counterparts. The same was true of forwards who were exposed to greater volumes of contact than backs.
  • The ruck provided the biggest risk of head impact exposure in both training and competition and this is an area that will be the subject of further investigation.
  • Tackle height affected the intensity of the impact, with lower body tackles resulting in lower intensity impacts.

This discovery study demonstrated the feasibility and value of instrumented mouthguards in describing the head impacts in matches and training and for the first time provided objective insights into the number and magnitude of head impacts associated with both match events and training activities in the elite English game.

SWA’s CEO, Chris Turner said “We are delighted to have been able to work with the RFU and PRL on this ground breaking study on behalf of World Rugby. The findings clearly demonstrate that there is a huge amount that can be done in the game to reduce head contact loads on players, helping them play more safely whilst still delivering the incredibly exciting spectacle that is Rugby. We look forward to playing our part in making that happen.”

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