Rugby balls lose air because their internal bladders are porous. This means that air seeps very slowly through tiny holes in the material.
It’s perfectly normal for a rugby ball to deflate gradually, and this article explains why.
However, we’ll also give you tips on how to slow down the air loss so that you don’t have to reach for the pump so frequently. And we’ll describe how to recognize a genuine leak – and what to do about one.
Why Do New Rugby Balls Lose Air When First Inflated?
When you inflate a new rugby ball for the first time, you may hear the hissing sound of air escaping. This actually isn’t due to the bladder. It’s due to how the ball is manufactured.
A little bit of air gets trapped between the bladder and the outer shell when the ball is put together. When you start inflating the bladder, the trapped air gets squeezed out through tiny gaps in the outer shell.
The air will probably trickle out at the ends of a plastic ball. While a more old-fashioned leather ball will let the air out through the stitching. So, this should be nothing to worry about.
Of course, it’s possible that a new ball has a fault. Check the later section on identifying genuine problems.
Why Do Rugby Balls Slowly Lose Air Over Time?
Every rugby ball contains a bladder that inflates when air is pumped into the valve.
If you’ve purchased a ball recently, it’s probably not one of the very expensive match balls used in professional matches. The bladder in your ball is most likely made of natural latex.
Latex has poor air retention
Latex isn’t just cost-effective for manufacturers. It’s also light and bouncy. These advantages are offset by how porous the material is. Air simply leaks through the microscopic holes.
This slow air loss will happen even if the ball is lying unnoticed in a cupboard. When you’re regularly kicking and catching it, the hits and bounces accelerate the rate of deflation.
This will be noticeable over eight minutes of constant hard knocks. That’s why professional matches have mostly stopped using balls with latex.
So, what alternative do the elite levels use? And why are some rugby balls so expensive?
Bladders with better air retention
We have a detailed article on the different materials used in rugby ball bladders. I’ll just provide a summary here.
Manufacturers mainly use a synthetic substance called butyl to decrease the permeability of the inner bladder. These balls retain air for longer but are more expensive than the latex option.
In recent years, the Gilbert brand has been manufacturing a copolymer bladder that retains air for a month. These balls are even more expensive than the butyl versions.
Reducing The Rate Of Deflation
Constantly having to pump the ball is a pain in the neck. We’ve said that air loss is inevitable, but is there anything you can do to slow it down? Yes, you can take a few easy steps.
Store at room temperature
A change in temperature also changes the air pressure in the bladder. That can accelerate air loss. So you should try to store rugby balls in a dry space at room temperature.
Many people toss the ball into a corner of the garage after training. If you live in a cold climate or have cold winters, the ball can go flat in a few days.
The opposite mistake is to leave the ball beside a heater. That will also give you a flat ball.
Identifying Leaks In A Rugby Ball
We’ve explained how air loss is normal, but your ball should not deflate within a few hours.
If you’ve purchased a new ball, you should keep an eye on it after the first inflation. An earlier section described how a bit of hissing isn’t unusual when you first pump up the ball.
However, if you need to pump it again after a short interval, it is likely defective.
There are two more common possibilities. Either the valve is faulty or there’s a hole in the bladder.
I wouldn’t try to figure out the problem. My recommendation is that you return a new ball for replacement.
Don’t hope for the best and take a half-deflated ball to a practice session. The shop may not be impressed if the ball looks like it’s had heavy use.
Or if there are obvious teeth marks from your pet dog!
Can You Fix A Leak In A Rugby Ball?
The old leather rugby balls had laces that could be untied to reveal the bladder within.
If you actually have a leather ball that needs a replacement bladder, you’ll find instructions in this article on rugby bladders.
In contrast, modern balls have stitched panels and a small opening for the valve. You would have to cut through the seams to get at the bladder.
It’s possible to do so, but you won’t have a playable ball at the end of the experiment.
If the ball has had heavy use, then you’ll just have to buy a replacement. If you’re wondering what to do with the broken one, we have an article on recycling your rugby ball.