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Foot in mouth: Super Rugby tweaks new HIA protocol after embarrassing 'technical issues'

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1st March, 2024
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Australian clubs have commended SANZAAR’s “smart decision” to tweak the Instrumented Mouthguard process after the opening round of Super Rugby Pacific was marred by a series of technical teething issues.

Players will continue to wear the iMGs during this weekend’s Super Round in Melbourne but will not be required to immediately leave the field for an HIA when their smart mouthguard triggers an alert to pitch-side doctors.

Instead, players will be checked by an on-field doctor after a trigger alert has been received.

If the doctor has any concerns, the player will then leave the field for an HIA. If the player passes an on-field check, they will still be subject to a full HIA, either at half-time or full-time.

World Rugby will run further trials in round three of Super Rugby Pacific to test improvements to the data-transfer process, with a view to reinstating iMG alert protocols once these issues are fully resolved.

Built-in bluetooth technology is being used to measure the G-force of every head impact and transmit data to the sideline, where match-day doctors can better identify players who require HIAs. 

But it seems a dodgy bluetooth connection was to blame in last Friday’s game when Chiefs centre Anton Lienert-Brown’s head knock came much earlier in the game, and there was a delay in the data transmission to the sideline.

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While Leinert-Brown was surprised by his removal, he later backed the use of the mouthguards.

“It came across as a lot of confusion and frustration, but I don’t want that to leave a message that I don’t support what’s going on,” he told Stuff.

“I do know that this is in the best interests of players and our future and our welfare.

“Five minutes to go, we were behind, I’m a competitor… I know the protocols, but at the time, I didn’t feel like I needed to be pulled off.

“But, hey, this technology’s here for our best interests, and that’s definitely something I don’t want to knock.”

It was a similar situation for Crusaders lock Quinten Strange, who also looked confused when he was forced off the field.

Super Rugby Pacific said the temporary changes come after “technical issues” during last weekend’s opening round of matches.

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Players will continue to wear the iMGs this weekend but will not be required to immediately leave the field for an HIA when their mouthguard triggers an alert to pitch-side doctors.

Instead, players will be checked by an on-field doctor after a trigger alert has been received. If the doctor has any concerns the player will then leave the field for an HIA. If the player passes an on-field check, they will still be subject to a full HIA, either at half-time or full-time.

World Rugby will run further trials in round three of Super Rugby Pacific to test improvements to the data-transfer process, with a view to reinstating iMG alert protocols once these issues are fully resolved.

Players will continue to wear iMGs in training and matches and all trigger alerts measuring an impact above 75g will be managed by medical teams to protect player welfare.

LONDON, ENGLAND – NOVEMBER 29: Stephen Larkham, Assistant Coach of Australia speaks to the media prior to an Australia training session at the Hilton London Wembley Hotel on November 29, 2016 in London, United Kingdom. (Photo by Dan Mullan/Getty Images)

The existing HIA protocols have not been affected and the Match Day Doctor still has the power to unilaterally remove any injured player for HIA assessment, or to remove a player from the game if necessary.

Player safety remains the top priority for World Rugby, SANZAAR and the Super Rugby Pacific competition, and there is a shared understanding between all stakeholders that iMGs are a key technology for the game moving forward.

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Brumbies coach Stephen Larkham on Friday reported 2023 John Eales Medallist Rob Valetine also fell victim to the breakdown in technology during his side’s win over the Melbourne Rebels.

“Bobby was taken off the field with 10 minutes to go for an IMG alert that had happened 20 minutes before that,” Larkham said. 

“Their complaint over in New Zealand was that the last 10 minutes of the game is arguably the most important part of the game and they’re taking some of the best players off.

“We had the same situation with Bobby. If the game was tight, we wouldn’t wish to have that situation happen again.

“It’s a logical, smart decision that they’ve put in place and we’re hoping it’s just a temporary one until the technology catches up.”

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NSW Waratahs coach Darren Coleman also agrees with the “sensible adjustment”.

“It’s not a perfect science yet,” he said.

“So I think until they get a little bit more accurate, it’s good that they’ve made some adjustments.

“It makes really good sense to me.”

Players will continue to wear iMGs in training and matches and all trigger alerts measuring an impact above 75g will be managed by medical teams to protect player welfare.

The existing HIA protocols have not been affected and the match-day doctor still has the power to unilaterally remove any injured player for HIA assessment, or to remove a player from the game if necessary.

“Player safety remains the top priority for World Rugby, SANZAAR and the Super Rugby Pacific competition, and there is a shared understanding between all stakeholders that iMGs are a key technology for the game moving forward,” a SANZAAR statement read.

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