Single front stud trial raises a rake of issues
Banned for decades, the mooted return of the isolated single stud is sure to be controversial, writes ANDY MCGEADY
THE IRB have introduced several changes to the game’s laws in a series of worldwide trials. And sure to be controversial are alterations to rugby’s detailed equipment regulations, particularly, the “specific sole configuration approved for trial” that will see the reintroduction of the single front stud – something that has been illegal in rugby union for decades, and with good reason.
Rampaging forwards of 30 years ago had used boots with a single front stud to great effect when (best-case scenario) rucking an opponent out of the way or (worst case scenario) deliberately doing an opponent serious physical harm.
In times past, when the appearance of more than one television camera even at a high-profile rugby match was an uncommon occurrence, it was not unknown for a player to present one pair of boots for the pre-match stud inspection and then don another, less legal pair for the game itself.
Illegal boots, though rare, still make appearances from time to time. In a Super 15 match in April 2011, Wellington Hurricanes and All Black prop forward Neemia Tialata was caught on a TV replay wearing a boot with an illegal single front stud. In a less high-profile situation, later in the year, various local rugby bodies under the RFU received a memo regarding an illegal boot discovered by a referee during play, again with an illegal single front stud.
When asked about his experience of stud-related injuries the Leinster Rugby team doctor, Arthur Tanner, said most stud injuries he sees are as a result of raking, with players often returning to the dressingroom with welts on their backs.
Very bad stud injuries are uncommon, in his experience, as the players’ jerseys and other protective layers generally prevent the skin from breaking.
The worst stud injuries Tanner has seen have been facial. Since he began looking after Leinster in the 1996-97 season Tanner listed three very serious facial injuries he had treated himself which had been caused by studs; Ian McKinley (2010, forced to retire), Cian Healy (2009) and Eric Miller when on tour in Samoa.
Although such potentially catastrophic injuries don’t occur often Tanner was clear in stating “the isolated stud has much greater potential for an admittedly rare injury”, adding “the chances of them [occurring] increase with the introduction of an unpaired stud”.
Trevor Lipscombe, physicist and author of The Physics of Rugby, when presented with a diagram of the IRB-approved Adidas design, held a similar view; “Looking at this configuration, there is an immediate problem; if all a player’s weight is put through just that one single stud and another player’s body happens to get caught underneath it, there could indeed be a difficulty”.
Lipscombe explained that it was similar to lying on a bed of nails; one can do this because the person’s weight is evenly spread. Trying to lie on a single nail is, however, impossible as it would immediately puncture the skin.
While IRB-approved rugby studs are not nails, when screwed into a rugby boot they pack a punch belying their diminutive stature. A rugby player weighing 122kg, standing in traditional six-stud rugby boots, exerts a pressure through each stud of approximately four times the force that a car’s tires exert on the road. If a player’s weight is concentrated through fewer studs the force through each rises accordingly.
So, why make the change? The primary driver behind the new design is to improve grip for forwards, back-rows in particular. The new single front stud, designed to be slightly offset from the centre, could potentially enable a back row forward to get more purchase on the turf when at full extension in the scrummage.
In its own equipment regulations, rugby union’s governing body explicitly recognises the danger of the single front stud. After the single toe stud was banned in 1981, the British Standard “Specification for studs for rugby football boots” was issued in 1983 and last republished in 2011. The IRB’s Regulation 12 echoes this standard, with both stating “There shall not be a single stud at the toe of the boot”.
The IRB’s regulation also states “The worst-case scenario in any event will be when a single stud/cleat, normally one toward the edge of the sole, makes contact alone”.
When asked about this apparent inconsistency, a spokesperson from the IRB said “there is some evidence to suggest that the single stud, as it is manufactured for this trial, does not pose a significant risk to the safety of players”. The IRB did not provide that data.
Adidas is the first company to have had a single stud boot design approved by the IRB, even on a trial basis.
It is unclear if the sports company came up with the single stud design and approached the IRB, or vice versa.
The introduction of a new design would obviously prove very lucrative for the company, as professionals rush to take advantage of any edge, and the rest of us simply want to try out a shiny new design in the local park.
When asked for more information on the new boots, the IRB suggested Adidas could provide the details. Adidas declined to comment regarding any aspect of the new stud configuration or how the trial came to be approved.
No data was provided to back up the safety of the new boot, which is understood to be due for public launch in October.
STUDS GAZETTE: IRB tries out single front stud
Law 4: Players’ Clothing –
Specific sole configuration approved for trial (right).
Save for this configuration, studs must be compliant with Law 4 and IRB Specifications (Regulation 12).