It’s A Whole New Ball Game For Wales In South Africa

When coach Mark Jones leads his Wales U20 squad to South Africa next week they will be breaking new territory in rugby.

Captain Ryan Woodman and his players will be among the guinea pigs for a new high-tec rugby ball that is being used for the first time at the World Rugby Under 20 Championship.

The Wales team kick-off their campaign against New Zealand when they will get their first taste of the new ‘smart technology’ ball that has been developed by sports technology specialists Sportable with rugby ball manufacturers Gilbert. The ball can be tracked in real time using beacons which determine its position up to 20 times a second, giving immediate feedback on every kick pass or throw.

The technology is expected to help officials detect forward passes more easily, measuring the relative velocity of the ball relative to the player as it leaves their hands, so indicating whether the ball has been ‘thrown forward’ in the act of passing. It will also be able to accurately plot the location when the ball is kicked for touch, ensuring that line outs take place at the correct location.

Decisions on whether or not a ball has been touched in flight will be aided by the technology and it will also help to determine whether or not the ball has crossed the try line.

At lineouts, it will be possible to provide immediate feedback to decide if the ball has been thrown in straight. This is done by measuring the angle of the throw from release to being touched by a player.

A direct feed of the data is sent to the TMO, who is then able to pass the information onto the referee.

“A fast game is a good game, and it is right that we explore technology that has the potential to help aid the flow of the game, reduce stoppage time and speed up match official decision-making,” said former Wales international Phil Davies, now director of rugby at World Rugby.

“Rugby refereeing is perhaps the most difficult officiating job in sport, there are multiple decisions or non-decisions that are made at any given moment and the advancement of broadcast and social media means that such decisions are pored over long after the event.

“The evolution of smart ball technology opens the door to assist match officials in reaching accurate decisions more quickly, removing subjectivity and reducing the chance of error.

“While this is a trial and the technology is new, we are excited about its potential and look forward to seeing it in action at the World Rugby Under 20 Championship.”

The World Rugby Under 20 Championship, which is scheduled to begin on June 24, will also incorporate a trial of the TMO “Bunker” in a further attempt to refine officiating.

The tournament is returning after a three year absence due to the COVID pandemic and it will be a first test for Jones who has taken over on a temporary basis after the departure of Byron Hayward.