World Rugby will trial smart ball technology at the under-20 world championship in South Africa next month, assisting officials in getting more accuracy about lineouts, potential forward passes and whether the ball has crossed the try line.
The trial comes after match officials expressed a desire for innovations to be explored to support accurate and quick decision-making. There are no plans for the technology to be implemented at the Rugby World Cup in France in September and October, but could offer a glimpse into the future of the game.
The smart ball will be tracked in 3D and in real time, with beacons positioned around the field to determine the exact position of the ball up to 20 times per second and provide immediate feedback on every kick, pass and throw.
The technology will ensure lineouts are taken from the spot the ball left the field of play and provide instantaneous feedback about whether a lineout throw is straight by measuring the angle from release to the moment it's touched by a lineout jumper.
It will measure the velocity of the ball relative to the player as it leaves their hands to help with forward pass decisions, whether the ball has been "touched in flight" — such as with knock-ons — and the live location of the ball will judge whether it has reached the tryline.
A direct feed will be made available to the television match official (TMO), who will provide feedback to the referee.
Phil Davies, World Rugby's director of rugby, said the technology "has the potential to help aid the flow of the game, reduce stoppage time and speed up match official decision-making."
"Rugby refereeing is perhaps the most difficult officiating job in sport," Davies said. "There are multiple decisions or non-decisions that are made at any given moment and the advancement of broadcast and social media means that such decisions are poured over long after the event."
"The evolution of smart ball technology opens the door to assist match officials in reaching accurate decisions more quickly, removing subjectivity and reducing the chance of error."