RFL to introduce new concussion measures and begin mouthguard research project
The Rugby Football League is to introduce new measures to combat the effects of concussion and roll out a three-year mouthguard project designed to scientifically measure head knocks.
The RFL board has accepted a recommendation from the sport’s clinical advisory group to amend the return-to-play protocols, which will mean players who fail concussion tests during matches or training will not be permitted to play again for at least 11 days, which is up from seven.
The governing body is also amending the sentencing guidelines for foul play in 2022, with players facing stiffer punishment for striking, headbutting, kicking and late hits.
Meanwhile, the RFL is preparing to launch a game-wide research project to quantify head impact and acceleration exposures in the sport with the aim of increasing understanding and reducing future risk.
It follows a pilot study in 2021 when players from Leeds and Salford wore instrumented mouthguards to measure head impact exposures and how tackle technique and tackle height influence head acceleration loading.
The guards, which are fitted with micro-chips and relay data to touchline medical staff, have also been used by Premiership rugby union clubs.
The RFL say all 12 Super League clubs are committed to working with researchers at Leeds Beckett University on the TaCKLE – Tackle and Contact Kinematics, Load and Exposure – project.
The scheme will be extended to teams from the Women’s Super League, the Under-18s academy competition and teams from the community game which means more than 1,000 players will have the opportunity to take part.
“The pilot study for the TaCKLE project was the most comprehensive validity study completed in the world,” said professor Ben Jones, lead researcher from Leeds Beckett and the strategic lead for performance and research in the RFL’s England Performance Unit.
“The study generated the data we needed to measure the effectiveness and accuracy of a range of instrumented mouthguards.
“We are now ready to begin the three-year research project.
“We are working closely with other sports who also recognise the importance of research in this area and are interested in the project, largely because we will be monitoring both male and female players from different sections of Rugby League.”
Former Super League referee Robert Hicks, who is now the RFL’s director of operations and legal, said: “Given the priority of player welfare, Rugby League continues to seek both to respond to increases in medical knowledge, and to provide relevant information.
“The TaCKLE project is an example of the latter and, working with Leeds Beckett University, we hope it will produce data of significant value to Rugby League and beyond.
“We are also fortunate to be able to call on the knowledge of a number of medical experts on our clinical advisory group, which has led to a number of amendments to sentencing guidelines in recent years, and now a change in the gradual return-to-play protocols.
“Our priority as a sport will always be to protect players and make the game as safe as possible, working with all relevant stakeholders and including Government through the DCMS Committee. These initiatives will further strengthen this.”