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Tackling rugby injuries with science

Students and academics are reducing the risk of long-term injuries for rugby players, with your help.

Collisions between players are an integral part of rugby – but what can be done to make the game as safe as possible? This is one of the questions being investigated by Professor Keith Stokes from our Department for Health.

His work is supported by a generous gift of £125,000 from local businessman Bruce Brain. Alongside a career in technology that included the development of vehicle number-plate recognition for speed cameras, Bruce was a talented rugby player in his youth. As such, he’s found that Bath’s fusion of sport and digital expertise offers a unique opportunity to support cross-disciplinary research in both areas.

Research with Impact

Professor Keith Stokes and his team are committed to improving player safety on a global scale.

Improving player safety

Our health and computer science experts have teamed up to develop game-changing technology.

A group of rugby players in blue and yellow University of Bath uniforms locked in a scrum on a rugby pitch.

Part of Bruce’s gift has been used to fund a project focusing on measuring the impacts experienced during rugby using wearable devices: an augmented rugby shirt with sensors sewn into the fabric, and a sensor-equipped mouthguard. This research sees Keith teaming up with Professor Eamonn O’Neill, Head of our Department of Computer Science.

“Through projects with the Rugby Football Union and Premiership Rugby, we have deployed the mouthguards in over 600 male and female rugby players in the Premiership and Premier 15s (now Premiership Women’s Rugby), as well as 100 youth rugby players” says Keith.

“This is new off-the-shelf technology that will develop rapidly over the coming years and this collaboration between health and computer science will enable us to carry out really detailed analysis of exciting and novel data.”

The data will be used to monitor the different forces applied to players’ bodies, such as acceleration and impact, and will provide insight to help inform player management in pursuit of a safer game for all.

Rasita Pokairat, one of the MSc Data Science students working on the project, adds:

“This could be applied to specific areas of rugby, such as tracking concussions, or to broader areas, such as assessing player performance or designing training programmes. It’s a real opportunity to improve player safety and success.”

Keith’s research is already having a real-world impact by enhancing players’ safety through the ‘Crouch, Bind, Set’ approach for scrums, which was trialled and implemented globally as a new rugby law from 2014. He was also central in the development of Activate, the first rugby-specific injury prevention exercise programme, which reduced concussions by up to 60% in controlled studies.

Keith says:

“Now we’re scaling up our ambitions to reduce injury by partnering with the University of Edinburgh through the International Olympic Committee’s UK Collaborating Centre on Injury and Illness Prevention in Sport. By working together, we’re helping to change the game, making it safer for players now and into the future to enjoy.”

Giving from the heart

Our donors choose to support the programmes they're passionate about.

A group of young women and men smile and stand around an older man sat at a table.

In addition to furthering research, Bruce’s gift will also support budding entrepreneurs through Alumni Innovation Awards, which give promising graduates the means to develop their ideas into viable businesses, as well as funding a scout for student projects within industry. Student enterprise is close to Bruce’s heart, and he has previously supported the University’s Dragons’ Den competition.

In recognition of Bruce’s gift to the University, he was invited to sign the Chancellor’s Roll of Honour during a visit to campus in spring 2023.


If you have any questions, please get in touch.