Any contracted professional New Zealand rugby player not wearing a mouthguard either in contact training or games is breaching the players' collective agreement.
New Zealand Rugby Players Association head Rob Nichol confirmed yesterday that mouthguards were a requirement under the NZRU's employee obligations for all levels of the game, up to and including the All Blacks.
The players collective clearly states a player agrees under clause 51.d: "to wear a mouthguard in the course of playing Rugby for a New Zealand Team or when contact training."
The issue has become a talking point after referee Nick Briant sent Wellington players Tomasi Palu and Ardie Savea off to fetch mouthguards during Saturday's match against Canterbury.
Nichol said the requirement should not be a surprise to professional players.
"It's been in for quite a while, probably the last three collectives, so we are going back eight to nine years," he said.
The clause had been inserted after a study by Dr Ken Quarrie showed mouthguards decreased the risk of concussion.
"It's not a fail-safe thing, but it was seen as a safety measure. At the end of the day Ardie [Savea] summed it up well when he said we want to set the right example for the younger kids," Nichol said.
While a player could be warned or face misconduct for breaching the collective, that wouldn't be the case with mouthguards.
"It's commonsense. It's put in place for the safety of the player, so it's about explaining that to them. If a guy has a real issue then we can engage experts to look at how they can deal with breathing issues.
"It could be a player has asthma or something like that and it's affected. You do what's reasonable, but we bought into it a few years ago and our view is guys should be wearing them.
"It's not something we go around waving a red flag saying, 'hey don't forget to put your mouthguard in'. It's one of those things where you take for granted, but a few guys have got a bit lazy and a few teams and coaches aren't monitoring it so its been raised.
"Hopefully, it gets people down the grades wearing them. I'm surprised if the medicos and others haven't spoken to them about not wearing them."
The effect or otherwise of mouthguards on concussion continues to be debated. Though there is no doubt they protect the mouth and teeth, more recent studies suggest they provide little protection against concussion.
- Fairfax Media