Super Rugby Pacific: 'Smart' mouthguard-gate - Chiefs star Lienert-Brown explains confusion over enforced exit against Crusaders

Chiefs midfielder Anton Lienert-Brown has provided his own account of his enforced departure during Friday's Super Rugby Pacific opener, when he was pulled from the field due to alarm set off by the competition's new 'smart' mouthguards.

With his team trailing by a point and hot on attack in the final five minutes of their blockbuster against the Crusaders, Lienert-Brown cut a confused figure as he was told he had to come off the field for a head injury assessment due to an alarm triggered by the new mouthpieces, which are designed to send signals pitchside via bluetooth when an impact above a certain threshold is recorded.

Earlier in the match, Crusaders lock Quinten Strange was also withdrawn in similar circumstances.

His expression of bewilderment dominated the post-match narrative, overshadowing another highly entertaining contest between the rival teams in their rematch of last year's final (eventually won by the hosts) and sparking debate about the new technology's effectiveness. 

Immediately after the match, Crusaders captain Scott Barrett pulled no punches with his assessment of the mouthguards, adding fuel to that fire.

Speaking four days after the incident, Lienert-Brown was quick to clarify both his reaction on Friday and his stance on the mouthguards, saying he'd later been told that the impact that triggered his departure had actually occured earlier in the contest.

"As a competitor, obviously I don't want to go off and there was a bit of confusion as to why I had to," he said.  

Anton Lienert-Brown reacts to being pulled from the field against the Crsuaders.
Anton Lienert-Brown reacts to being pulled from the field against the Crsuaders. Photo credit: File

"The feedback I got from them was that it happened a lot earlier. I wasn't too sure on what instance it was.  

"But I guess that's why the technology's here - to let us know if we have gone over the threshold."

Speaking to Sky's The Breakdown, World Rugby’s chief medical officer Professor Eanna Falvey acknowledges there were issues throughout the opening round with the delay in sending players to the sideline for assessment due to latency with the signals from the mouthguard to the team doctors' devices.

According to Falvey, eight alerts were recorded across the entire weekend, which was more than they'd anticipated.

The 70-test All Black reiterated his wholehearted support for the mouthguards and the intent behind them, stressing the context of the match had amplified the entire situation.  

"If you look at Friday night, my reaction, obviously it came across as a lot of confusion and frustration.  

"But I don't want that to leave a message that I don't support what's going on. I do know that this is in the best interest of players in our future and our welfare.

"When anything new comes out, there's going to be teething issues. And I don't want to knock, what they're doing, I want to I want to support it. I think as players, and I guess the experts that are doing the mouthguards, we've just got to work together to find the best solution so there's not so much confusion.

"Like anything in life, when something's new, you can't expect it to be perfect. We all know that. Like I said, as a competitor, it just happened to be that moment at that time of the game that made it frustrating.  

"But it definitely doesn't mean that I don't support it. They've already come out and said that they will make adjustments.  

"I think we'll just find that common ground and we'll find a solution."

World Rugby has invested over $3 million in the development of the new mouthguards, which have an in-built accelerometer and gyroscope buried on the back inside the rubber material and communicate via bluetooth with an app monitored by the match doctor.

They were trialled by the Black Ferns during last year's WXV1 competition and made their debut on the men's test stage earlier this month during the northern hemisphere's Six Nations tournament.

There's no issue with their comfort factor, adds Lienert-Brown, saying they fit and feel essentially the same as a stock-standard mouthguard. 

He's confident that as the competition progresses, both players and the developers will be able to ensure they operate more efficiently, with the fact that both incidents took place in the competition opener unfairly magnifying the issue.

"When you reflect over all the games that were played in Super [last weekend], there were a couple and the first game and they probably highlighted the mouth guards more than it probably needed to be," he said. "For the most part, there weren't too many players being pulled off.  

"I think, as the season goes on, there will be more data and more work done to better the outcome for both parties.

"I was wearing the mouth guard because I back the technology and I know it's in our best interests. I definitely support it.  

"I know how I reacted on Friday night probably would have looked different. But you've got to understand the circumstances of the game and what was going on."

"But the technology's here for our best interest. That's definitely something I don't want to knock."

In other Chiefs-related news, star first-five Damian McKenzie has been cleared to travel with the team to Melbourne and is on track to play in their Super Round clash with the Brumbies on Sunday.

The All Blacks back left the game against the Crusaders at halftime after being hard in a tackle by Levi Aumua, leaving his ribs in pain.  

Coach Clayton McMillan later said McKenzie's withdrawal was more of a precautionary measure an has since confirmed he expects his star pivot to be ready to roll at AAMI Park.