World Rugby have announced the latest innovation in rugby union's bid to monitor and reduce the amount of concussions in the game, with eye-tracking technology now being trialled in the southern hemisphere's Super Rugby Trans-Tasman.
Concussions throughout the tournament are being monitored using eye-tracking technology, World Rugby announced on Tuesday. A test using Virtual Reality was used for the first time during the opening round of the Super Rugby Trans-Tasman last weekend, with the NeuroFlex® VR test measuring oculomotor functions (eye movements) to generate an accurate, quantitative and metrics-based report, which provides objective data for medical personnel to diagnose and manage concussions.
Currently used alongside the Head Injury Assessment protocols, the trial will determine whether the VR test can improve the accuracy of HIAs in the future. HIAs currently operate at 90 per cent accuracy in elite competitions.
Given that scientific studies have demonstrated that oculomotor functions are altered at the time of or shortly after a concussion, the VR test could further improve rugby’s approach to brain health.
The use of eye-tracking technology is the latest move by World Rugby to increase surveillance around possible head injuries, with a study currently ongoing in the community game in New Zealand featuring 700 participants using specially-designed mouthguards to monitor head impacts.
A trial to lower tackle heights was also introduced back in 2018 and used by the Rugby Football Union in the 2018-19 Championship season, with players not allowed to tackle above the armpit, although the study was prematurely ended by the RFU in January 2019 following a significant increase in concussions.
World Rugby Chief Medical Officer Dr Éanna Falvey said: “We believe that oculomotor screening examination in rugby has the potential to boost the identification and management of concussions by objectively identifying potential abnormalities in oculomotor function between a player’s baseline and when removed for an HIA assessment, adding to the depth of identification methods available to the sport.
“We are excited about this work and would like to thank New Zealand Rugby and Rugby Australia for embracing it. The ambition of this partnership with NeuroFlex® is to determine the technology’s objective diagnostic accuracy in a rugby environment and help inform the advancement of World Rugby’s future concussion identification and management strategies.”
All participating players undertook baseline testing under controlled conditions in the lead-up to the tournament as part of the study, with Super Rugby Trans-Tasman tournament featuring the Blues, Chiefs, Crusaders, Highlanders and Hurricanes from New Zealand facing the Brumbies, Force, Rebels, Reds and Waratahs from Australia.
All of the five New Zealand franchises picked up victories during the opening round over their Australian counterparts, with the Melbourne Rebels suffering the heaviest defeat, losing 50-3 to the Blues.