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'Hasn’t been proven’: Gregor Townsend wary of trusting mouthguard technology

By PA
Andy Christie of Scotland celebrates victory after defeating England during the Guinness Six Nations 2024 match between Scotland and England at BT Murrayfield Stadium on February 24, 2024 in Edinburgh, Scotland. (Photo by Stu Forster/Getty Images)

Scotland head coach Gregor Townsend expressed concerns about the implementation of smart mouthguards after temporarily losing a second player in successive Guinness Six Nations matches for a head injury assessment triggered by the new technology.

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This championship is the first time that elite male players have worn ‘instrumented’ mouthguards which send alerts whenever a ‘head acceleration event’ with G-force that exceeds 70g and 4,000 radians per second squared is detected.

Scotland are thought to have been the only team impacted so far, with hooker George Turner going off for an HIA in the first half of the match against France a fortnight ago, with fellow front-rower Zander Fagerson – who was visibly puzzled as he made his way off the pitch – having to do likewise in the seventh minute of Saturday’s Calcutta Cup win over England.

Both players were deemed fit to return to the pitch.

Asked after the England game if Fagerson’s departure from the field was triggered by his mouthguard, Townsend said: “Yes, it was and I saw the tackle again, just a normal tackle.

“I think we have to really watch what we’re doing here by trusting technology that’s not been proven.

“What we’ve been doing over the last few years is making sure that any symptoms that are seen, by a number of people, can flag up whether someone goes off for an HIA.

“Zander was taken off for 10 minutes after what looked like a normal tackle but there was a spike alert from the mouthguard.

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“I know in Super Rugby there were a couple of alerts and players were saying ‘there’s nothing wrong here, I’ve just made a tackle’, so we’ve got to watch that because you don’t want to be taking our best players off the field for 10 minutes if there are no issues around concussion.

“We want to protect our players, that’s for certain, but there’s a bit more work to do before this technology is correct.”

Asked if he felt the technology had been rushed in to top-level rugby, Townsend said: “It’s a new thing in the Six Nations and it’s not been used at club level prior to the Six Nations.

“I’d hope they’d learn from today’s incident, and obviously George Turner went off for 10 minutes in the previous game.

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“We need to make sure it’s as close to accurate as possible. That’s what we want.

“We have lots of eyes watching and players are now very good at saying ‘I’ve had a head injury here, I have to go off’.

“I think we just need to do a bit more work here before we move on.”

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finn 20 minutes ago
Massive red flag raised by weakened Champions Cup teams – Andy Goode

I wonder if the problem of some teams not taking it that seriously would be helped by making performance in the champions cup count towards qualification and/or seeding in the following year’s competition. Eg. top four seeds would be winners of the URC, premiership, and top 14, plus best performing team in the previous year’s CC who have not otherwise qualified. Doing that the seedings for this years comp. would have been: Tier one: Saracens - Munster - Toulouse - la Rochelle Tier two: Sale - Stormers - Racing 92 - Leinster Tier three: Leicester - Connacht - Bordeaux - Exeter Tier four: Northampton - Ulster - Lyon - Sharks Tier five: Harlequins - Glasgow - Stade Francais - Edinburgh Tier six: Bath - Bulls - Toulon - Ospreys The competition would probably work better with fewer teams, so I’d probably favour only the first 4 tiers being invited, and then going straight to a quarter final without a round of 16. On the one hand this would possibly incentivise teams to take the champions cup seriously, and on the other it would mean that the latter stages would be more likely to involve teams that have demonstrated a willingness to take the competition seriously. The main differences between my proposed system and the actual draw is that mine would give la Rochelle a fairly easy ride to the quarters, and would either exclude the Bulls entirely or would give then an insurmountably difficult draw. As it happened Exeter got quite an easy pool draw but that was a bit of a fluke. My system would reward Exeter for being one of the teams that demonstrably devote a lot of attention to the CC by guaranteeing them a good draw.

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