27 Feb 2024

Super Rugby Aupiki players voice concerns over smart mouthguards

12:58 pm on 27 February 2024
New Zealand Black Ferns captain Kennedy Simon during WXV

Black Fern Kennedy Simon wearing a smart mouthguard during WXV. Photo: Alex Leech / www.photosport.nz

Women's rugby players have been wearing smart mouthguards for years but they aren't convinced the new technology is the finished product.

Black Ferns and Farah Palmer Cup players have worn the mouthguards with a chip inside which have been used to detect head knocks during different competitions since 2020.

The men's Super Rugby Pacific competition experienced issues with the technology linked to the mouthguards last weekend and players have vented frustration and confusion about it following the opening game of the competition between the Chiefs and Crusaders.

Although smart mouthguards have been trailed for several years, it is only recently that advances in technology have enabled data to be transmitted in real time rather than having to be downloaded after the match, allowing the system to be integrated into the HIA (Head Injury Assessment) process.

The women must also wear them, under World Rugby rules, when Super Rugby Aupiki kicks off on Saturday and Chiefs Manawa captain and Black Fern Kennedy Simon is hoping they have improved since she last wore one.

Simon was one of six players taken off in a WXV game in October due to a mouthguard malfunction - a situation she doesn't want to see repeated.

"I know there is going to be some challenges, I think from the last time we wore them the threshold was lower so that was a challenging time, they've finally brought the threshold up so we just need to make sure the technology is right and then also making sure we are all on the same page in terms of medical staff."

Simon is aware of the why - player welfare and brain health - but she is looking forward to the improvements in the system.

"It'll develop better as they bring in the data so hopefully we don't have [multiple players taken off] happening often.

"I hope that they work as intended I would hate to see six players come off the field again and I don't think that will happen."

Matatū captain Alana Bremner says players have been spoken to about the importance of the mouthguards but she said with technology "it can be hit or miss if it is going to work, especially while they are in this trial stage."

"Here's hoping it does all run smoothly I do think it is a good idea there is just a bit of teething issues that does come with technology and I guess we're the guinea pigs at the moment.

"It can be frustrating especially when key players are being taken off in certain times of the game and you're off for 12 minutes or so before you can come back on the field so there is definitely frustration.

"It has to start somewhere and we're the ones who are going through this so it is going to come with niggles, but we have to have an open mind and we see the outcome that they want to have and that's that when you finish your rugby career we're all healthy."