RFL approves concussion-detecting mouthguards across rugby league

The Rugby Football League has approved the game-wide introduction of mouthguards that could detect whether or not a player is at risk of a concussion or head trauma. The guards, which were trialled by Leeds Rhinos this year, will come in next season and could provide greater understanding of when an individual is in danger by measuring through sensors the force of every collision they experience during a match.

Super League clubs have unanimously backed the introduction of the guards but the Guardian has now learned that the RFL has made the decision to adopt them more broadly as part of its Tackle initiative. The Women’s Super League, academy rugby and the community game will all benefit from the rollout, which has been developed in conjunction with Leeds Beckett University to try to improve the overall safety of players.

Concussion is high on the agenda in rugby league, particularly given the news that a group of former international players are planning legal action against the sport’s authorities over a failure to protect them properly from long-term neurological injuries as a result of playing the game. The former Leeds captain Stevie Ward announced his retirement from the sport at the age of 27 in January because of persistent concussion-related symptoms.

“The guards measure head acceleration profile and track impact to the head and rotational force,” Prof Ben Jones, who works for the Rhinos and has helped lead the study, told the Guardian. Other governing bodies such as union’s World Rugby have introduced the mouthguards but Jones insists rugby league is breaking barriers by rolling the concept out across an entire sport, including the professional and amateur games at the same time.

Jones added that the mouthguards were “initially going out across Super League but the RFL has committed to roll this out across the whole game. It’s utterly comprehensive. The Super League clubs have helped lead it and they understand the safety of their players is greater than winning a game on the weekend. They should be commended for that. They’ve been through a lot but they understand the welfare and safety of their players is the absolute priority.

“I think other big governing bodies will follow off the back of this. Rugby league is making an effort to look after everyone in one go. I would argue that rugby league’s commitment to this is proof that they are determined to look after their players the best they possibly can.”

Jones also insisted that as scientific research into concussion and head trauma deepens, further initiatives could become available to offer more protection. “I think rugby league is ahead of where it was, as is all sport in general,” he said. “You can’t just pull evidence out of the air, it has to accumulate over years. Every six months is better than the previous six months. The scientific evidence evolves over time and these guards are proof of that.”