Lovell Rugby Interviews Gilbert RWC Virtuo Ball Designer Ian Savage
Lovell Rugby was recently thrilled to interview Gilbert Rugby Ball Designer Ian Savage. The New Virtuo ball is the ball that will be used in the Upcoming Rugby World Cup in New Zealand. The Virtuo Gilbert ball will be Gilberts Fifth World Cup ball in a row.
How Long has it taken to develop the New Virtuo RWC Match Ball?
Gilbert maintain a constant ball development program, which is designed to peak around two years before the start of the next Rugby World Cup. This means that balls can be developed to a stage where players input can be sought at the right time. The Virtuo has taken approximately three years to develop, and was launched during the Autumn Internationals, November 2010
What was the main story behind the design of the New RWC Ball?
The Synergie ball was a high benchmark, so the focus for the Virtuo was to take that good base forwards. The remit was to produce a ball that was even more consistent and accurate – both when kicking and passing. One of the key areas when developing rugby balls is finding a balance between grip and aerodynamics – with the Virtuo, we have improved its aerodynamics by altering the weight of the valve, and modifying its shape to distribute the weight differently. It also has a different type of bladder, which gives slightly more resilience, making the ball more responsive from the boot when kicked. Its these improvements, combined with the known performance of the patented grip pattern from the Synergie, that makes the Virtuo our best ball yet.
Do The players have any feedback in the ball developing?
Players do get a chance to give feedback during the development phases of a ball. We use our internal testing machines to get the prototypes to a level that we are happy with, then give players a chance to kick the balls and provide their own feedback.
Do You feel the players prefer to use Gilbert balls?
In general, I would say yes they do. Every player is slightly different and has different preferences, but with Gilbert being the ball of choice for so many of the tournaments and leagues around the world, they are using our products more than others. Gilbert balls are manufactured in a way that makes them very consistent, which is ultimately what a player wants – the knowledge that the balls will perform to the same high standard every time it’s used.
What have been the major developments in Rugby balls in the last ten years?
Quite a lot! Gilbert launched the Xact ball in 2002 – which was the ball of the 2003 RWC. This was the first step on the road to the Virtuo. The Xact revolutionised rugby balls by using a much higher pimple, but more spaced out. In 2004 we launched our first Sevens specific ball, the Xact-7. This took the Xact a step further by using higher pimples and changing the shape of them to Stars – again, a first for rugby balls – the Xact-7 was the balls for the 2005 Sevens RWC. In 2006 we launched the Synergie ball – the development process showed that we could get more pimples on the ball to get even more grip, without affecting the aerodynamics. Placing the secondary layer of pimple half the height to the others was the key – the Synergie was the match ball of the 2007 RWC. In 2008 we launched the Synergie V2 – another Sevens ball, this time for the 2009 Sevens RWC. Testing showed that we could make the pimples slightly bigger and more defined to increase grip – ideal for Sevens rugby. Now we have the Virtuo – launched in 2010 and the balls for the 2011 RWC
Do You feel that a ball is Judged on whether Goal Kicking percentages are high with the ball?
Yes, mainly because goal kicking percentages are the currently the only ready indicator that the media have for ball performance. We look at majority of kicks and passes to get a true picture of ball performance. Percentages only give you some of the story – kick positions, kick distances, weather conditions, player form and pressure of the situation all combine to affect the performance. We are confident that the balls are consistent, and this will generally come through across the course of a game, tournament or season
For club/School wanting to know more about Rugby balls- What are the key differences between training and match Rugby Balls?
There is one main difference between Gilbert training and match balls – our match balls all feature our valve in seam TruflightTM technology, which is a patented method for placing the valve in the seam of the ball. This is important for two reasons, firstly the valve is a weight which helps keep the ball flying straight, and by placing it in the seam, it allows the kicker to point it towards the post – and hit the opposite seam, which is the weakest point of the ball covering, hence allowing more energy into the ball, for a better more consistent strike. Depending on a kicker ability, it can also give further distance.
The Match ball range also offers improved rubber qualities for better grips, and different backing material qualities for better performance. The higher up the range the better the grip and kicking characteristics, the trade off being durability. The lower end match balls and training balls are more durable, and will retain their shape and grip for longer, but they don’t have the same performance characteristics of the higher end balls.