A new rugby ball offers integrated referee technology

The introduction of technology in rugby has made the job of a referee easier. The ability to consult a television match official (TMO) and review an incident or potential try via replays means the referee has a better chance of making the right call.


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That’s not to say the TMO system is perfect. The process can sometimes take a long time and even then the outcome may still not be clear. For example, reviewing if a try has been scored at the bottom of a maul may be impossible for a TMO due to the sheer number of bodies on top of the ball.

Scientists in America have recently developed a new system that will allow a referee to award a try with 100 percent certainty without the need of a TMO. Researchers at North Carolina State University and Carnegie Mellon University in Pennsylvania have developed a rugby ball with a built-in GPS system that can track the ball’s precise location anywhere on the field – http://www.planetrugby.com/news/technology-that-will-take-the-rugby-world-by-storm/.

Ball tracker

The GPS locator chip is placed within the ball and emits a low-frequency signal to antennas all around the pitch. The technology will let referees know if the ball has crossed or touched the try line, even under a pile of players.

This system could encourage rugby coaches to develop a new rugby drill to take advantage of rolling mauls and set pieces to score tries. Before, referees have been reluctant to award tries when a heap of bodies has been on top of a ball, although greater accuracy may now lead to better set piece planning. Sites such as https://www.sportplan.net/drills/Rugby/ can help develop a game-winning strategy.


The scientists enlisted the help of Disney to design and build the lightweight transmitter. Low-frequency magnetic fields are not affected by the human body so will not be interfered with by players or fans in the stadium. Currently, the technology is being tested during American football games although it’s hoped the GPS balls can be extended to other sports such as rugby.

Balls that contain built-in sensors are already on the market. Sports manufacturer Adidas has created a ‘smart’ football that records how hard it is struck and tracks its flight trajectory. Information is relayed back to an app to improve performance.

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