Premiership Rugby has partnered with Sportable to trial the use of the new Smart Ball to generate high-speed data in a bid to drive better athlete performance on the field.

This Friday’s cup will become the first professional northern hemisphere competition to trial the ball, which will provide ‘new, real-time data-led insights’ for teams, coaches, fans at the matches as well as TV viewers.

The partnership also includes BT Sport and Gilbert, and Phil Winstanley, Rugby Director at Premiership Rugby, commented: “We are constantly looking at innovations and ways to grow the game and we are delighted to have chosen to trial this new smart ball. 

“This season we have brought live Premiership rugby back to terrestrial TV, launched PRTV Live – so all Gallagher Premiership Rugby matches are now available to watch live – and now we hope this new rugby ball will help provide a greater insight for a new audience, while deepening our relationship with our current fans.

“The smart ball also gives our players and coaches the ability to improve performance on the field and in training with unique data. 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.”

The partnership also allows BT Sport to open up metrics for TV audiences, whilst Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) chips inside the ball communicate with sensors around the stadium up to 20 times every second. 

Sportable’s Artificial Intelligence (AI) tool then automatically enables precise information and insights about the ball’s movement when it is passed and kicked, such as speed, distance and hang-time. 

This means that the broadcast of tomorrow’s Newcastle Falcons v Leicester Tigers game is now taking part in what has been described as an ‘enhanced graphics analysis tool’.

Jamie Hindhaugh, Chief Operating Officer of BT Sport, concluded: “We are proud to further deepen our near decade-long relationship with Premiership Rugby by bringing our viewers even closer to rugby than ever before. 

“We are continually looking to give our viewers more ways to watch, such as live action in stunning 4K UHD with HDR or via our App which is available on more devices than ever such as smart TVs and games consoles.”

Furthermore, the project will also be used to assess the value that the Smart Ball can add to officiating through the automatic detection of forward passes. The research on the forward pass may be ‘pivotal’ in informing enhancements for match officials moving forward and assisting in the efforts to avoid long TMO delays.

The news follows last week’s announcement that Rugby Australia had first partnered with the UK-based media company to introduce the innovative ball-tracking technology to the sport.

This collaboration began at the Melbourne Rebels v Brumbies round four match where the Gilbert x Sportable Smart Rugby Ball was featured in all Australian derbies on the east coast across the remainder of the Super Rugby Pacific season.

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