ENGLAND’S success in this year’s Six Nations campaign may have been helped along by none other than Gala rugby guru turned inventor, Richie Gray.
Players have been benefiting from a new technical training aid created by the former player/coach and designed with help from engineering experts at Heriot-Watt University in Edinburgh.
Gray, founder of Global Sports Innovation, wanted to create a specific training aid that would realistically simulate a maul and improve players’ individual and collective roles, dynamic movement and tactical awareness, but required mechanical engineering assistance.
Working alongside Dr Daniil Yurchenko from Heriot-Watt University, the pair developed the principles around the science of collision which have helped to analyse how a typical rugby player’s physique would respond to pressure and charges from various angles and at various strengths.
The result is the Maul King, a project three years in the making – the rights of which have been given to global rugby brand Rhino for manufacture and distribution. It is already being used by the English Six Nations team during training sessions for this year’s tournament.
Gray told TheSouthern: “I wanted to develop a training aid that would give coaches and players the competitive edge when it came to mauls, but quickly realised that my rugby expertise needed to be combined with engineering know-how, so I approached Heriot-Watt University for help.
“I know the English are using it at the moment, but Scotland are buying into it too, so who knows, in a year’s time it may just be having the same affect on them.”
Fabricated using aluminium, stainless steel and a variety of spring mechanisms, the Maul King reacts just as a rugby player would to a maul situation and the invention has already won the praise of England and British and Irish Lions assistant coach Graham Rowntree.
He said: “The Maul King creates an outstanding training aid to develop mauling technique before going into live practice. The way that the machine will not move unless all your players are in sync is very impressive.”
Dr Yurchenko added: “The main challenge in designing the Maul King was that, although we knew the practical reasons for making it, we didn’t have any models to base it on.
“Using a combination of mechanical engineering techniques, computer-aided design and mathematical modelling, we were able to design a piece of equipment that has unique responses to a range of pressures and charges.”
The design project was part-funded through the Scottish Funding Council’s Innovation Voucher Scheme, which matches funding up to £5,000 for collaborative projects between Small to Medium Enterprises and universities in Scotland.
This is Gray’s second major rugby coaching innovation. The Rhino Collision King, which targets the breakdown, was launched at the Rugby World Cup 2011 and is now being used by teams competing at all levels of the game across the globe.
Gray has played and coached all over the world and in 2007 became one of the key drivers in the creation of The Borders Academy of Sporting Excellence (BASE) at Borders College.
Today, he still lectures at Borders College, as well as being Rhino Rugby’s specialist skills coach, which sees him delivering specific skills sessions to clubs and countries all over the world.
He is regarded through his innovative work with specific training equipment for rugby union as one of the foremost thinkers of coaching methods relating to the breakdown area.