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AI and IoT technology will provide a range of new game metrics to players, coaches and fans when it debuts
March 18, 2022
Premiership Rugby will give the world’s first smart rugby ball a trial run in the 15 remaining Premiership Rugby Cup matches this season, beginning with the March 18 Newcastle Falcons-Leicester Tigers matchup.
The AI-enabled Gilbert Smart Ball provides a variety of ball-movement metrics using Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) chips inside the ball that communicate with sensors around the stadium up to 20 times per second. Kicking and passing information like speed, distance and hang time is relayed in real time to players, coaches and fans at the game, while broadcaster BT Sport will package up the new content for viewers at home.
The trial is being conducted through a partnership between the Premiership league, BT Sports, rugby-equipment manufacturer Gilbert and technology developer Sportable. It represents the first time the Smart Ball will have been used in a professional northern-hemisphere competition (Australian Super Rugby put it into play last weekend).
The Smart Ball will provide game insights like who are the fastest and longest passers and the most powerful and accurate kickers and which teams or players take the most risk in their clearance-kicking game and which ones play a more expansive game via longer, wider passing, Premiership said.
Former England outside-half and Gilbert brand ambassador Paul Grayson, who has been helping Sportable develop the ball, said it will enhance the game of rugby both on and off the field.
“We’re delighted to be working with Premiership Rugby on the first live deployment of the Gilbert Smart Ball in a tier-one rugby union competition in the northern hemisphere,” he said. “This is the result of years of hard work, investment and cutting-edge scientific thinking, so it’s super exciting to now see the Smart Ball being embraced by leading rights-holder partners across the globe.”
The ball will introduce audiences to a range of new game metrics, Premiership said.
“Hang-time and accuracy on box kicks will show how difficult they are and how brilliant some players are at them,” the league said. “Territorial gain will give a good picture of how brave kickers are being when going for touch from a pen kick. And ground reload will give an idea of how quick scrum-halves are at getting the ball away from a ruck.”
The Smart Ball will provide data that teams can use to fine tune performance on the field and in training, Premiership rugby director Phil Winstanley said.
“Touring our clubs with the ball in recent weeks has shown us that the players and coaches can’t wait to get started with it,” he said.
The trial will also demonstrate the value the ball can provide to game officiation through the automatic detection of forward passes, which can reduce the need for long TMO (Television Match Official Delays), Premiership said.
“We hope this new rugby ball will help provide a greater insight for a new audience, while deepening our relationship with our current fans,” Winstanley said.
John Yellig has been a journalist for more than 20 years, writing and editing for a range of publications both in print and online. His primary coverage areas over the years have included criminal justice, politics, government, finance, real estate and technology.
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