Stormers, Bulls and Lions take part in URC's instrumented mouth guard project

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Flanker Willie Engelbrecht during a Stormers training session in Bellville on 23 May 2023. (Photo by Ashley Vlotman/Gallo Images)
Flanker Willie Engelbrecht during a Stormers training session in Bellville on 23 May 2023. (Photo by Ashley Vlotman/Gallo Images)
  • The Stormers, Bulls and Lions are taking part in the URC's instrumented mouth guard project.
  • The project was launched to obtain data to assist with head injury management.
  • Sensors embedded in mouth guards will provide information on the frequency, intensity, and location of head impacts.

South African franchises the Stormers, Bulls and Lions are three of six United Rugby Championship (URC) outfits taking part in a project where players wear instrumented mouth guards.

The project was launched to provide new data to assist with head injury management. The other URC teams taking part are Scarlets (Wales), Benetton (Italy) and Edinburgh (Scotland).

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In a statement on its official website, the URC said the sensors embedded in the mouth guards provide objective information on the frequency, intensity, and location of head impacts. 

This 'hard data' plays a crucial role in identifying head impact exposure rates, analysing playing positions, training drills, and individual players.

The metrics, provided by the HITIQ system, have the potential to assist in the identification and rehabilitation of concussions, while it also assists in the management of player contact load monitoring.

All six teams received visits from the HITIQ team where their players had their mouths scanned to provide custom-fit devices. As part of the trial, HITIQ provided 160 units.

A statement from URC organisers read: "The URC is committed to assessing entry points for technology trials or proof of concepts that can help to broaden the tools available for the care and protection of players. The development of instrumented mouth guards has seen trials occur with various suppliers across the world, largely driven by World Rugby, but also within URC unions themselves and in elite rugby in other leagues and with continued cross-property collaboration in the sport the shared learnings should benefit the sport.

"Medics and performance teams from all of the teams involved have been enthusiastic about the early performances of the HITIQ mouth guards in practice and what this collection of data can provide in the future."

Michael Dunlop, Edinburgh team doctor and chair of URC Medical Committee, commented: "Instrumented mouth guard technology has the potential to give medical and performance staff objective insight into the intensity and frequency of head impacts, both in matches and training.

"Such data would be an additional tool to the concussion recognition, graduated return to play and load management (player welfare in short), processes already in place across the URC and elite Rugby Union. 

"In addition to the guards themselves, there are multiple aspects around this technology which are essential to develop. Over our 'first' season, it has been a pleasure to work in partnership with HITIQ around the advancement of many of these, and it is our hope as a league that this partnership can continue."

Raaghib Fredericks, team doctor at the Stormers, added: "In terms of player safety, a device and system like the HITIQ can only be beneficial. The more information we can collect, the better for medical management of player welfare and the more objective our decision making can be.

"The data collected is still very raw in nature and we will only really understand its value, once normative values for each contact are established. That being said, the concept is very exciting and looks like it could be the future of player welfare, regarding concussion management."

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