Gregor Townsend expresses mouthguard tech concern after another Scotland player taken off for HIA

For the second time in two games, Scotland withdrew a player following an alert

Gregor Townsend has expressed concerns over the readiness of mouthguard technology introduced in the Six Nations to help with identifying the need for head injury assessments.

While stressing that player safety was paramount, the Scotland coach believes more work is required to ensure the innovation is proven to function properly. He was speaking after Scotland’s win over England at Murrayfield during which home prop Zander Fagerson was removed for an HIA after seven minutes when a signal from his mouthguard alerted the pitch-side medical team following a tackle. He returned to play after the mandatory 10 minutes after passing his HIA.

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“I saw the tackle again – just a normal tackle,” said Townsend. “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.

Dan Cole of England runs with the ball whilst under pressure from Zander Fagerson of Scotland.Dan Cole of England runs with the ball whilst under pressure from Zander Fagerson of Scotland.
Dan Cole of England runs with the ball whilst under pressure from Zander Fagerson of Scotland.

“Zander was taken off for 10 minutes after what looked like a normal tackle but there was a spike alert from the mouthguard. I know in Supoer 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.”

Players on all teams have been provided with custom-fitted instrumented mouthguards, which measure an individual’s exposure to head accelerations. They are worn during training sessions and matches.

World Rugby, the game’s governing body, announced in October that smart mouthguards would be added to HIA protocols from January, and the Six Nations is the first elite men’s competition to use the new technology.

George Turner, the Scotland hooker, had to go off in similar circumstances against France in round two of the Six Nations and was able to return to the field after passing his HIA. Townsend believes there is still work to be done on the technology.

“It’s a new thing in the Six Nations and it’s not been used at club level prior to the Six Nations,” added Townsend. “I’d hope they’d learn from Saturday’s incident and obviously George Turner went off for 10 minutes in the previous game. [We need] to make sure it’s as close to accurate as possible. We have lots of eyes watching and players are now very good at saying ‘I’ve had a head injury here I have to go off’. I think we just need to do a bit more work here before we move on.”