Saracens’ head impact device a talking point for Premiership


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The Independent Online

Premiership Rugby, the English clubs’ umbrella organisation, said yesterday it “looked forward to discussing the outcomes” with Saracens after the London club upped the debate over concussion by attaching impact sensors to its players’ heads during Saturday’s 22-6 win over London Irish at Allianz Park.

The chip-like device taped to the bony area behind the ear gathers data that measure the concussive effects of playing the game. The idea is not entirely new to rugby, and it has been used in American sports, but Saracens claimed it as one element of a ground-breaking concussion research programme led by “world-leading academics”.

Eleven Saracens players wore the X-Patch – a proprietary product developed by a company in Seattle – and it is also being used in training. The front-row players were exempted for fear of it being rubbed off during scrums. Encased in protective plastic, the device measures impact forces throughout the skull using a gyroscope and an accelerometer, which between them can sense the rotation, tilt, movement and speed applied to them.

Saracens’ chief executive, Ed Griffiths, said yesterday that referee Tim Wigglesworth and opponents Irish had agreed to the patches’ use, but as yet no organisation, including the England team, had expressed an interest in following suit. “If they do, we will happily talk to them,” Griffiths said.

Premiership Rugby said yesterday it had been unaware of the trial beforehand but its rugby director, Phil Winstanley, said: “We welcome any initiative that helps our management of such an important issue as concussion. We will look forward to sitting down with Saracens to discuss the outcomes.”

World Rugby, the global governing body, said it would be discussing the experiment with the RFU this week.

Initial searches found no documentation of results or clinical decisions arising from use of the technology, though that may be explained by medical confidentiality.

Multimillion pound lawsuits in the US founded on a lack of duty of care to NFL players have helped make concussion big news in contact sports. Saracens got in touch with patch-makers X2 Biosystems last June, and company representatives visited London in November.

Saracens hooker Jamie George said yesterday: “With everything that’s going on in the NFL, it’s an initiative we’re pretty proud of, and something that needed to be looked into. It’s a great opportunity to get some good data and do some good research.”

Rich Able, co-founder of X2 Biosystems, was already in the medical device business when he saw his son Kyle knocked out in a high-school American football match in 2007.

“We became aware that it’s not necessarily the big ‘slobberknocker’ hits that are the most dangerous,” said Able. “It’s the multiple, repeated, sub-concussive hits that are suspected of doing the most long-term damage to players’ brains.” The company claims its software is being used throughout the NFL and by half the MLS soccer teams.