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Friday, September 25, 2020

Technology at the Rugby World Cup 2019

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Nigeria may not be taking part in the finals of the Rugby World Cup 2019, after being eliminated by Morocco in the earlier rounds, but there is still plenty to look out for, especially for those interested in technology.

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From the balls to the pitches, from the kit to the TV screens, there will be lots of exciting new tech on display as the world’s top twenty teams battle it out to lift the William Webb Ellis Trophy. Here’s a quick guide to the tech of the tournament.

The balls

As the best teams in the world fight it out to see who will win the Rugby World Cup 2019, the teams behind the scenes are working just as hard to integrate the latest technology to make the tournament run as smoothly as possible.

This starts with the ball itself, with Gilbert, the official RWC ball supplier since 1995, creating a brand new ball for the tournament. The Sirius ball incorporates a whole raft of state of the art technology designed to enhance performance and handling.

The ball features two sets of dimples at different heights, which combine to increase the ball surface by around 30% without making the ball any bigger.

This is designed to increase grip, especially when the ball is wet – a crucial factor in Japan’s very humid conditions, particularly when matches will be played in the evening.

However, this has not stopped the Welsh team from covering the ball in baby oil during practice sessions in an attempt to acclimatise players to a slippery ball.

The kit

Unlike the old days, when rugby was played in baggy knitted jerseys, today’s kit technology is advancing all the time.

For this year’s tournament, Asics are taking their tech to a whole new level, not only creating state of the art fabrics that wick sweat and cling closely to the players to make them harder to tackle, but also matching their kit designs to the team’s playing style, and even individual playing positions.

Shirts will be designed for each player using 3D imaging and matched to their position to provide the required performance.

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Canterbury, the manufacturer of Japan’s shirts, has created three designs, each with different materials for front row players, other forwards and backs. Technology has advanced so quickly that these shirts are 12% lighter than those worn in the last world cup just four years ago.

The pitches

Rugby is notorious for tearing up otherwise pristine pitches, with scrums and rucks putting any surface to the test. To combat this, the pitches in Japan will utilise the very latest in hybrid pitch technology.

For example, the surface at the Kamaishi recovery memorial Stadium will comprise normal turf, planted on a sublayer of artificial fibres, cork and sand, to encourage stronger roots and a more durable, shock absorbing playing pitch.

Meanwhile, at Kobe Misaki Stadium, the natural turf will be interspersed with artificial fibres that are over 20cm long. These will be driven into the soil to allow the natural roots to wind around them to add strength and durability and produce a firmer pitch.

The stadiums

Rugby World Cup 2019
Despite the new technology, the aim remains the same: to lift the Rugby World Cup

Wales may not be used to a slippery ball, but the team do have a retractable roof at their home stadium in Cardiff that uses the same impressive engineering technology as that at the Kobe Misaki Stadium.

Unfortunately, Wales are the only UK team who won’t play at that venue. However, if they progress to the quarter finals, they may get to experience the retracting roof at Oita Stadium.

Other stadium improvements include state of the art screens for the fans which will give them all replays and insight of watching sport at home, combined with the incredible live atmosphere of actually being there.

These screens are essential in many Japanese venues, as they are often designed to be multi-purpose, with a running track between the fans and the pitch, making the action harder to see.

As you would expect from the Japanese, the new screens will be ultra-bright, ultra-clear LED screens with remarkable resolution.

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Of course, despite all the new technology, the outcome of the tournament will still come down to the skill of the individual players and the spirit of the teams.

But at least we’ll all be able to enjoy it more for all that tech. And with two African teams taking part, including South Africa as second favourites, there could be a lot to cheer for.

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