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Thinking A Head In Rugby

New technology from a smart-thinking Dunedin company has the potential to put an end to hot headed rugby players.

Protective Sports Apparel Ltd has just completed the prototype of a new generation rugby head protector, which enhances protection while minimising thermal discomfort - and, they believe, will lead to improved player performance and safety.

The company's innovation has also come to the fore with its revolutionary rugby gloves, which burst into action in the Highlanders' Super 12 game last weekend, contributing, some say, to their runaway win.

Contributory funding of $11,000 from Technology New Zealand's Grants for Private Sector Research and Development (GPSRD) scheme (part of the Foundation for Research, Science and Technology), enabled the company to work alongside Otago Polytechnic and CG Surgical to develop the foam technology needed.

Miles Rapley, Protective Sports Apparel Ltd director, says the company already has achieved success with its 'Shock Top' ® rugby shoulder pads which was the first rugby protective product to receive IRB (International Rugby Board) approval under the new player dress laws.

"We felt it was imperative to complement the Shock Top shoulder pads with a premium quality headgear. We'd noticed that players would run on to the field in headgear, then throw it to the sidelines after 10 minutes or so, because unfortunately they had just got too hot to wear.

"The best way to avoid overheating with headgear has been to shave the head but we thought there must still be a design that would offer good protection, but still be comfortable to wear for extended periods with or without hair," he says.

"Early on we made the decision we weren't going to make headgear unless it was exceptional. We didn't want to just do a variation on an existing theme," says Miles Rapley.

Increasingly players are recognising that minimising the chances for cauliflower ears and boosting all round head protection is in fact desirable. Mr Rapley also notes that schools are taking proactive steps in encouraging use of protective pads and headgear even to the extent of some making it compulsory.

He says it was a real struggle and the research project took twice as long as the company had hoped. "We're trying to be innovative in an area that is highly restricted by IRB guidelines, and we believe we've come up with something that meets everyone's needs. Our tests show that it is comfortable, cooler and as protective as anything that is currently being worn.

"Design and aesthetics are important. No-one wants to look like the geek player, so we've put effort into making something very racy and modern."

Mr Rapley believes New Zealand's rugby heritage will provide a valuable impetus for the headgear internationally, and he hopes to build on the success of the shoulder pads.

"We want to keep the whole project, from concept through to manufacture, a totally New Zealand exercise," he says. "We're fortunate in Dunedin that we have a number of organisations and companies who have become involved with the research, but our headache now is finding a New Zealand manufacturer who can make the volumes we need."

The company will be seeking IRB approval for prototype head protector in the first quarter of 2002.


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