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Smart ball technology to aid refs at World under-20s event

CNA – New smart ball technology will be trialled at next month’s Under-20 Rugby World Championship to help officials rule on tries, ball in touch, lineout trajectory and forward passes.

World Rugby is working with analytics company Sportable and equipment manufacturer Gilbert at the event in South Africa to “explore how the emergence of new technology and artificial intelligence can help shape the future of the sport, aid the flow of the game and take fan experience to the next level”.

The idea of the new ball tracking system is to help officials make accurate decisions more quickly and deal with a number of common but challenging aspects of law.

The smart ball is tracked in 3D and real-time with beacons positioned around the pitch to determine its exact position up to 20 times per second and provide immediate feedback on every kick, pass and throw.

A direct feed will be made available to the Television Match Official, who will be able to use the information to provide feedback to the referee.

England’s Josh Hathaway celebrates scoring a try. PHOTO: CNA

World Rugby said the smart ball is already successfully delivering data to aid broadcast and digital experiences but that recent testing has also demonstrated its potential to assist with officiating.

World Rugby Director of Rugby Phil Davies said, “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.

“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 poured 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.”