The governing body has hit back after the Scotland head coach appeared to question the reliability of the smart mouthguard technology

World Rugby have responded to Gregor Townsend’s comments questioning the smart mouthguard tech after Scotland’s Zander Fagerson was removed from the field for an HIA in the first half of the game against England at Murrayfield.

An alert was triggered that Fagerson had been involved in a heavy collision that subjected him to a force of more than 70G or 4,000 radians per second squared, meaning he had to go for further concussion checks before returning to the game 10 minutes later.

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It’s the second time a Scotland player has been sent for an HIA in this year’s Six Nations via a smart mouthguard, which isn’t mandatory in the tournament, after George Turner’s in the game against France.

While it is seen as a step in the right direction for player welfare, the Scotland head coach was keen to urge caution when it came to the reliability of the new technology after watching his side beat England 30-21 to retain the Calcutta Cup for a fourth successive year.

“I saw the tackle again – just a normal tackle,” Townsend said. “I think we have to really watch what we’re doing here. Trust in 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, a number of people can flag up whether someone goes off for an HIA.

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

“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 off 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.”

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In response, World Rugby’s science and medical manager Lindsay Starling, hit back, insisting she is “confident” in the accuracy of the mouthguards. Only seven players have been removed due to high-impact alerts above the determined threshold through three rounds of the Six Nations.

Scotland's George Turner is forced off with a head injury during a Guinness Six Nations match between Scotland and France at Scottish Gas Murrayfield Stadium, on February 10, 2024 (Getty Images)

Scotland’s George Turner is forced off for an HIA after an alert was triggered by his smart mouthguard (Getty Images)

“That is to put it into perspective regarding how rare and small these numbers are in terms of the players coming off,” Starling said. “For a player to be removed, it means they have sustained a really big knock.

“We are confident in the data that comes from the mouthguards and confident in the technology. We wouldn’t be introducing this on such a large scale if we weren’t confident in the data that is coming from them.

“From research we’ve done over the last few years, we have essentially identified a threshold whereby any impact that is occurring to a player above that threshold, it is very likely that the player displays signs of clinical concussion.

“We see this as a real game-changer. It enables us to understand information about the players that we have never known before and cannot know just from observing. We’ve known for the last decade-plus that concussion is a topic that requires a huge amount of attention.

“Over the last few years that narrative has changed slightly to encompass all head-impact events, all head-acceleration events, not just those that manifest in clinical symptoms such as concussion.”

While in the early stages of the roll-out phase, Starling did concede that more testing is needed.

She added: “Anything of this magnitude requires time, and a huge part of this is around education that needs to be done with all stakeholders in the game. This year we will be instrumenting over 8,000 rugby players with this technology.

“I think everyone does understand why this is being done, and that is purely for the welfare of players.”

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