In a step towards yet further improvement of player welfare, Premiership Rugby has announced the introduction and partnership with Hawk-Eye Innovations. The introduction of Hawk-Eye’s ‘spotter system’ is in pursuit of eliminating, or at the very least greatly reducing, the number of undiagnosed concussions in within Rugby.
The new real-time system, which will operate in the Gallagher Premiership, home European Cup matches, the Premiership Rugby Cup and Premiership 7’s, has been funded solely by the Premiership clubs.
Essentially, the introduction of Hawk-Eye allows for each Premiership club to allocate an individual staff member as their ‘Pitch-Side Video Reviewer or PVR for short. The PVR will be afforded up to eight different camera angles of the match they oversee, allowing the individual to access a constant and controllable stream of pictures and not merely the angles permitted them by the TV directors whose job is to entertain fans as opposed to highlighting player welfare to medical staff.
“The fundamentals of Smart Replay are capturing content,” Barton explained, “whether that's video footage from broadcasters' cameras and data feeds, making it available to a number of stakeholders who need to act on it in a sporting context.
“So for example, here with Premiership Rugby, we're capturing a number of broadcasts feeds from the host broadcasters, whether that's BT Sport or Premiership Rugby's other broadcasting partners. “
Barton is confident that a PVR will be able to spot, assess and share clips of potential head injuries with medical staff – who will have a tablet solely for such incidents- within 10 seconds, ensuring players are prevented from returning to contact after suffering head injuries that may otherwise have gone unnoticed.
He elaborated: “We're taking eight angles from broadcasters, so that's not just what you see on TV at home, but also direct feeds from a number of their cameras. So it means we're not reliant on the footage that happens to make it to air and the decision of a director. We've got a much wider range of footage to work with to allow medical teams to make informed decisions and to improve player welfare.
“So if there is a player getting up slowly from a ruck, if there is a potential bad tackle where a player looks groggy off the back of it, there's possibly signs of ataxia or other symptoms related to it. With a concussion, your PVR reviewer can immediately be reviewing that footage and making decisions and communicating that to other people around the venue as and when applies.
“The medical teams pitch-side will also have a tablet and they have an affinity to share clips between different team members. Your PVR can be identifying pitch-side and communicating to other members of staff. Immediately saying 'number seven, last ruck gets up slowly, potential impact to the head, we need to go and have a HIA.'”
Barton went on to further dispel any concerns of Premiership fans of whether this new spotter-system would slow the game down further, with the lengthy periods it takes for Television Match Officials (TMO) currently under fire for wasting long periods of time adjudicating over refereeing decisions, leaving fans waiting for minutes at a time for play to resume.
“It won't do at all,” Barton said when posed with this question, “the way that the HIA protocol is designed is that there is a free substitution while that takes place. So the game will never stop while the HIA is taking place. It won't look any different on the field when a player is being treated or taken off for a HIA.”
Smart Sports, the company responsible for Hawk-Eye Innovations, were also the technology providers for the VAR system at the Fifa World Cup over the summer and operate within 20 sports across 7200 events/games a year. The company also have more than adequate experience working within Rugby Union, having begun their work within the sport in the build-up to the 2015 Rugby World Cup, going on to strike up regular partnerships with the RFU, WRU, IRFU and the Pro14.
If this partnership and the introduction of Hawk-Eye proves a great success for the Premiership over the coming seasons, Smart Sports may well become suppliers of improved technology for the TMO system, with the company’s representatives admitting to an aspiration of attaining such a deal at the Twickenham last week.
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