Sportable and Sage’s smart technology and data will be used in the new rechargeable Gilbert match balls will be used for the first time in an England Test match this weekend.
Under a cover the same size as the pressure valve sits a microchip, a PCB battery plate, accelerometer and gyroscope.
None of that tiny tech will affect the weight, flight or natural movement of the ball – Sage have worked with Gilbert for five years to make sure of it.
A team of experts have installed sensors into the Twickenham stadium framework, allowing Sage to map the ball’s movements to within a centimetre’s accuracy, in an instant.
Those sensors have a two-drunk height minimum placing – out of reach of one boozed-up fan sitting on another’s shoulders – just for safe keeping.
Amazon Prime viewers will be able to see kick distances straight away, while the tech can accurately record elements like hang time, spin rate and far more.
Sportable have already held discussions with Australia’s National Rugby League (NRL) competition on applying the technology to judge forward passes.
Back in union’s Autumn Nations Series, none of the tech will be employed by Television Match Officials (TMOs) at this stage. But bosses at Sage see no reason why that cannot change in future.
Paul Grayson won the World Cup with England in 2003 and has moved on to a successful career as a kicking coach.
The 51-year-old has been involved with the Sage-Gilbert project from the ground up, and believes the applications of the technological advancements could alter rugby forever.
“I’ve kicked every iteration of these balls across the last five years,” said Grayson.
“The balls were suspended initially and heavily under-inflated. The tech worked but hadn’t been engineered into the ball at that point. But now, you pick up the ball, if you didn’t know it was there, you wouldn’t realise.
“It started as a great adventure but has grown into something that could have a major knock-on effect for raising awareness around skill development for players.
You can measure ball speed, spin rate, the launch angle, hang time and much more.
“This could genuinely change an element of the game, which fascinates me, especially as a kicking coach. You can measure ball speed, spin rate, the launch angle, hang time and much more. All that to me is money in coaching terms, and would have been as a player too.”
Sportable’s product performance manager Joe Luca Smith believes the smart ball tech could easily boost TMO work in future.
“This isn’t involved in officiating yet, but we’ve had the NRL trials in Australia on the forward pass, and there will be more discussions there,” he said.
“We’ve also carried out a study on helping touch judges mark exactly where the ball goes into touch. It would be cool to have a line on the advertising hoardings, like the first down marker in NFL.
“It’s so simple and easy to understand, and has just been accepted as a mode of concept for watching American Football.”
Sage is the official insights partner of Six Nations Rugby and will be powering the Smart Ball this Autumn Nations Series #SageInsights