World Rugby announces 'landmark' study into brain injuries

More than 700 male and female amateur rugby union players – from adults to under-13 level – will shortly take part in the largest study into what happens to the brain during head impacts, World Rugby has announced.

The study, which will begin in New Zealand in mid-April, will require players to wear mouthguards in training and during matches which will then wirelessly transmit a series of metrics to researchers at the University of Otago in real time. Each match will also be recorded, allowing time-coded video analysis of every collision.

World Rugby’s chief medical officer, Dr Éanna Falvey, said the scale of the “landmark” study would provide the largest set of data to compare the nature and frequency of head impacts in any sport.

“Player welfare continues to be our top priority,” he said. “By continually commissioning and partnering in research, we can make evidence-based decisions that will advance our understanding of injuries in the sport and more importantly, inform the moves that we can make to reduce them.”

The issue of brain injury in rugby has been brought centre-stage by a group of former players who are suing the game’s authorities after being diagnosed with early-onset dementia, which they believe was caused during their rugby careers.

Earlier this month Dr Willie Stewart, a consultant neuropathologist at the University of Glasgow, also told parliament that women and girls face double the risk of concussion and developing brain injuries from playing sports such as rugby union, and warned the issue was largely being ignored.

Stewart, who sits on World Rugby’s independent concussion advisory group, also told MPs that there was “about one brain injury a match in professional men’s rugby” – a figure he called “unacceptably high”.

The new study comes hot on the heels of another World Rugby announcement this week that it would be trialling eye-tracking technology which can help the detection and management of concussion.

A separate study published last week, which used saliva samples to diagnose concussion at pitchside, was found to predict a head injury assessment with 94% accuracy.

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