When Harlequins and Gloucester meet for Saturday’s Gallagher Premiership clash at Twickenham, the two teams will have a lot in common.
Both have designs for sealing the play-offs. Both will want to impress a huge audience at the English rugby house. Both of them will want to continue to play their entertaining brands of rugby.
But what’s less known is that Harlequins and Gloucester are leading the way in using revolutionary mouthguard technology as a way to improve players’ well-being.
Gloucester back Ollie Thorley uses high-tech mouthguards during training and matches
The benefits of this have already been felt at both The Stoop and Kingsholm.
Last season, the use of PROTECHT technology provided by Sports & Wellbeing Analytics (SWA) played a significant role in winning Premiership glory by Harlequins. It helped Gloucester climb the table this term. The technology enables teams to instantly measure the amount of contact players experience in both training and matches.
Data is sent back to the sideline by sensors located in the player’s mouthguard and provides a number of benefits in terms of both welfare and performance.
First, it allows teams to check for any concussions or head injuries that may have been overlooked on the pitch.
Moreover, teams can also modify the way they train based on the data.
The benefits of this technology were felt at both The Stoop and Kingsholm
Last season, Harlequins reduced the number of contacts they made during training by 70 percent as a result of analysis of data provided by PROTECHT.
The result was the first Premiership title since 2012.
After trying at the end of the 2020/21 campaign, Gloucester has used the technology full-time this season and has seen a dramatic increase in form.
“We use rubber boots in training and matches, and we are making contact at all times,” Ollie Thorley told Gloucester back to Sportsmail. “It gives you confidence that the level of your contact is monitored. The game is under a lot of pressure right now to protect players.
“Anything that can monitor the impact is extremely beneficial, and it’s good that the data you get from the mouthguards means that decisions about well-being are out of the hands of players.
“A mouthguard can monitor the speed of your head’s movement, which is a really good indicator of whether you have potentially suffered a shock or a sub-shock.
“Until three or four years ago it was not available to medical staff. Rugby is a physical sport so there will always be some risks. But the point is to keep the risk as low as possible. I certainly believe that since I started playing the risk has been reduced. “
Player welfare is one of, if not the biggest, problems in rugby today.
A diagnosis of former players such as Steve Thompson and Alix Popham with permanent brain damage and early signs of dementia showed that something had to be done.
“It has a huge impact on everyone – there’s no getting away from it,” admitted Thorley.
“It’s very widespread in the media right now, and rightly so. Steve’s story sounds particularly shocking.
Harlequins and Gloucester are leaders in the use of mouthguard technology
“Most players will wonder about that. She reiterates the need to take care of ourselves and our clubs to help us do that. It’s great that Gloucester is using this gumshield technology not only for our performance now, but also for our well-being in the future. ”
Harlequins and Gloucester are the only two Premiership clubs currently willing to pay for the use of technology to provide care for their players. The Welsh Ospreys region is also working with PROTECHT, which is now in talks with other Premiership and United Rugby Championship teams.
Eoin Power, head of medicine for Gloucester, said: “The mouthguard data is fascinating on two levels.
“Sometimes, bumps – such as those at the bottom of a backpack – go unnoticed, so the technology gives us an extra layer of protection for players from parts of the game that we would rather not have happened.”
“This is obviously a huge addition to our armory in the fight to reduce concussion. Second, it helps us to optimize the contact training load.
“If you can improve these levels, it will help you keep the players from getting hit. If the data shows that a player has had a particularly difficult game, we can reduce their overall contact load for the next week to keep them fresh and recuperated for the next game.
“This season we have achieved a significant reduction in injuries in our entire squad. This definitely contributed to the management of player contacts. Most importantly, it helped us better deal with potential shock injuries.
“This technology ensures that any invisible contacts do not slip through the network.”
Both Harlequins and Gloucester can provide tangible examples of how they have benefited from mouthguard technology this season.
“Before using the system, the eye of the coach and performance in one of our key back rows was such that his impact would diminish after five or six games,” said Harlequins medical team principal Mike Lancaster.
The Harlequins broke off in training last season and won their first Premiership title since 2012
“Thanks to the new system and a 70% reduction in contact training load, his results are now fantastic. Before that, we had no idea about the intensity of some of the strokes he was making.
“He has now gone through 15 games in a row with no relegation, and we’ve seen that in many of our athletes, including the older ones.”
Gloucester’s Power added: “One of the game’s greatest contacts is kick-chase.
“We have a very competent player who specializes in performing this skill. In one particular match, he made three or four really important kick chases and had a couple of big collisions.
“In all these collisions, he looked absolutely fine, and from the concussion point of view, he would not have noted any concerns.
“But when we looked at the cumulative data later, we were very concerned about the contact spikes he had, and found that he probably wasn’t quite right out of the game and therefore treated him as a potential concussion.” Without the mouthguard data, it wouldn’t work at all.
“Without that extra layer of protection, we wouldn’t be able to manage it so efficiently, and that’s what it’s all about because there is no game without players.”
Both Harlequins and Gloucester player kits will be wearing mouthguards using PROTECHT microchip technology at Twickenham this weekend.
Cherry and Whites head coach George Skivington and Power admit that the use of microchip technology is not the only reason for their better form this season.
But at the same time, it clearly brought huge benefits, and it cannot be a total coincidence that both Gloucester and Harlequins saw improvements in player accessibility and then on-pitch performance since the use of mouthguards.
England World Cup winner Steve Thompson was diagnosed with dementia
“Technology means we can narrow down a few exercises so that we can get enough hits without undercooking,” said Skivington Sportsmail.
“We’re still wondering how we can maximize it, but we’ve certainly made some good changes and all the boys are using it right now. This is definitely a positive thing.
“Thanks to this, we can train wisely and take care of people’s health, which is extremely important.
“In my opinion, there is no doubt that the mouthguards our players are wearing will benefit them now and benefit them in the future.”
After two years of Covid-19 decimating Premiership finances, Harlequins and Gloucester deserve credit for investing thousands of pounds in their players’ well-being.
This investment was rewarded with their respective league positions. They will enter third and fifth place respectively for Saturday’s match at Twickenham.
The Harlequins also plan to expand the use of mouthguard technology in their academy while it is already being used by their female side.
The PROTECHT monitoring system is also used in the football Premier League and in boxing. Other tests are available, such as checking a player’s saliva makeup to monitor concussion, but mouthguard technology is now leading the way.
As the struggle for the welfare of rugby players continues, it will soon become even more common.
“You have to be brave enough to stick your head over the railing,” said Power.
“Now I’ve seen the data that can be produced and the impact it can have on how we manage and care for players, I think it’s absolutely mindless.
“I don’t think it will be long before it is rolled out across the Premiership. We should do everything we can to protect the players and the game. ”
HOW IT’S WORKING
How the PROTECHT technology provided by Sports & Wellbeing Analytics works:
- Players wear microchip mouthguards during contact training and during matches.
- Microprocessor technology measures the physical contacts each player receives.
- This data is then immediately sent to the sidelines and monitored by trainers and support staff who can respond appropriately.
- If the data indicate that a player has received a major blow – to the head or otherwise – the coaches may remove him from the playing court, if necessary.
- It can also be used to manage the athlete’s load during training. If he or she has suffered a big blow during a match, he or she will be monitored for the next week and, if necessary, “white”, which means he will not make contact.