Modern game taking increasingly heavy toll on top Irish players
Ireland line out against Wales for the RBS Six Nations 2012 match at the Aviva Stadium. photograph: Alan Betson
As they push their bodies to breaking point, it’s inevitable injuries will be a common theme for this generation of elite Irish rugby players
You don’t have to wonder why Rob Kearney and Luke Fitzgerald wrangled over contracts or why Jonny Sexton is on his way to play in France. It’s not difficult to understand why Brian O’Driscoll turned up in South West France to present trophies for rugby as his contractual negotiations with the IRFU were approaching and was recently linked with a move to Australia.
Leverage is one thing players’ agents try to get on their side but few believed any of the players would leave until the Sexton saga came to a surprising conclusion. Up to now Irish players have been mindful of playing fewer games in Ireland, understanding that their most precious commodity is their body.
Although Sexton has largely escaped an extended sideline experience, the other three players have suffered injuries that have probably allowed them believe they made the right choice in staying in Ireland. Whatever thoughts they may have about the IRFU, their employers do try to manage the players in a game that is becoming increasingly attritional.
Condition coach Mike McGurn has crossed swords with Stephen Ferris in recent weeks. Ferris didn’t like McGurn’s view on his injuries although the flanker pointedly didn’t claim McGurn was incorrect in his analysis.
McGurn graduated with a BSc(Hons) in Sports Science from the US after receiving a scholarship for athletics.
In 2000-01 he won the Super League with Rugby League club St. Helens and in 2002 worked with the IRFU as the strength and conditioning coach until 2008, when he moved to Ospreys. In 2009, he was appointed Director of High Performance with Armagh GAA.
Last year in Ireland’s first match against Wales in the 2012 Championship Kearney, Bowe, Rory Best, Ferris, Paul O’Connell and Sean O’Brien all lined out. Brian O’Driscoll did not because he was injured, nor did Luke Fitzgerald for the same reason. The six who played in Ireland’s first match were all subsequently injured and took varying periods of time out of the game.
O’Connell (knee and back) is still sidelined along with Ferris (knee and ankle and Bowe (Haematoma, knee). O’Driscoll (shoulder and ankle), Kearney (back), Fitzgerald (neck), O’Brien (hip) and Best (neck) are just recently back playing, Fitzgerald not having featured for over a year. It has not been a good 12 months for Irish players and injury.
“I think two things,” says McGurn. “Conditioners do look at injury profiles. Even though they are not qualified medics they work very closely with them. I would concur that a lot of the injuries have been because of stuff players have been doing in the gym. What that does is make everyone more powerful, so that the impact collisions are higher.
“If we were to measure the impact in a game of rugby on a GPS (Global Positioning System) we would be looking at around 13 to 14 Gs of force. I came from professional Rugby League to Rugby Union in 2002, when Rugby Union was in its infancy. The level of conditioning compared to the players in union was frightening. It was chalk and cheese.
“The players in Union weren’t as well developed. The collisions and the contacts weren’t as big. Not only have they caught up but have probably surpassed Rugby League. The body isn’t designed for collisions like that on a regular basis no matter how much training, how much recovery time you have.