An enhanced grip pattern on the match ball will facilitate handling at next year's World Cup in Japan. Ian Savage, the brains behind Gilbert's shiny new Sirius, explains more

Gilbert launch the 2019 Rugby World Cup ball – the Sirius

Another piece of the 2019 World Cup jigsaw has slotted in with the launch of the official match ball for the tournament – the Sirius. Named after the brightest star in the night sky, it has been two years in the making and is the seventh World Cup ball to be created by Gilbert.

Almost all of the features present in the Match-XV ball used at RWC 2015 remain, with the one notable difference being the use of a sharper pimple to provide better grip, especially in wet conditions.

“Due to different manufacturing techniques that we’ve developed over the last two to three years, we’ve been able to get much more definition on the pimple. That’s the technical difference,” explains Ian Savage, Gilbert’s ball engineer.

“You have to balance how the aerodynamics work with the pimples. You could make a ball really grippy by making the pimples a lot higher, but you wouldn’t be able to kick the ball in the same manner; it would be too aerodynamically unstable.

“It’s a balancing act, so what we’ve done with the Sirius is to change the definition of the pimples without changing the height; that’s why the aerodynamics are maintained whilst improving the grip.”

    1987 Mitre Multiplex
           1991 Adidas Webb Ellis
                 1995 Gilbert Barbarian
                        1999 Gilbert Revolution
                              2003 Gilbert Xact
                                     2007 Gilbert Synergie
                                            2011 Gilbert Virtuo
                                                  2015 Gilbert Match-XV
                                                        2019 Gilbert Sirius

At the 2003 World Cup in Australia, Fiji blamed the “slippery” silicon ball covering for their error-strewn display against USA, while four years later New Zealand expressed criticism after Dan Carter missed five out of nine kicks against Scotland.

Jonny Wilkinson also struggled off the tee in 2007 and it emerged that match officials had over-inflated the balls, despite being given clear instructions.

Fiji v USA at RWC 2003

Fast but loose: Fiji criticised the ball after their 2003 win over USA in Brisbane (AFP/Getty)

For France 2007, Gilbert addressed the issue of slipperiness by creating a dual-height pimple and switching from a round pimple to a star-shaped one. Then, in 2011, they changed the shape of the valve to enhance the rotational consistency as the ball travelled through the air.

Four years ago, the Match-XV had a softer feel and repelled water more efficiently, aiding grip, but the number of changes to a rugby ball are shrinking as we get closer to perfection.

“It’s a fine-tuning process really,” concedes Savage. “I think there will always be scope to improve (a ball) just with the way technology has moved forward. But there are certain things defined by World Rugby that we can’t change, and therefore the areas in which we can, we’re always trying to push those boundaries.

“Ultimately the improvements are going to be smaller as we continue to move forward, because we’ve made some pretty incredible jumps in the last 12 years.”

Balls at Argentina training 2015

All in order: Gilbert Match XV balls lined up at an Argentina training session in 2015 (Sportsfile/Getty)

The Sirius will be used in anger for the first time in this weekend’s Japan-New Zealand match in Tokyo, and thereafter will be on view across the autumn Test programme.

Gilbert officially supply 16 of the 19 teams that have qualified for Japan 2019 – one of the exceptions being New Zealand – and that will become 17 out of 20 should Canada or Germany clinch the remaining spot via the repêchage.

Handling is one thing, kicking is another. Goalkicking success rates typically hover around the early to mid 70% bracket, and while past masters like Wilkinson and Carter are no longer around, Owen Farrell, Leigh Halfpenny and Greig Laidlaw are at the forefront of an equally impressive current generation.

    2003 – 72.5%
    2007 – 73.4%
    2011 – 63.6%
    2015 – 74.9%

“There are some fantastic kickers around but there are some elements they’ll have to adjust to playing in Japan,” says Savage. “Most players have played in England and New Zealand and France, they’re established international venues. But Japan will be new for a lot of players. The longer the players have got exposure to the (Sirius) ball, the better the scenario.”

Official Gilbert Rugby World Cup 2019 Sirius match balls will be available online from 1 December; official RWC 2019 replica match balls are available now.

Owen Farrell converts a try at RWC 2015

Sharpshooter: England’s Owen Farrell converts a try at the 2015 World Cup (World Rugby/Getty Images)