RFU wants ‘significant change’ after alarming rise in injuries
For third-successive year concussion remains most commonly reported injury in English rugby
English authorities want World Rugby to introduce greater clarity around the legal height of the tackle and believe referees should be encouraged to take a tougher stance. Photograph: Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile via Getty Images
English rugby’s leading players and administrators are urging World Rugby to introduce stricter sanctions for high tackles following the release of officially collated injury statistics for the 2017-18 season. While there has been a small drop in the number of concussions, the severity of injuries in top-level English rugby is on the rise.
Based on the latest findings of the Professional Game Action Plan on Player Injuries, a joint collaboration between the Rugby Football Union, Premiership Rugby and the Rugby Players’ Association, the English authorities want World Rugby to introduce greater clarity around the legal height of the tackle and believe referees should take a tougher stance. “If there is a desire to change player behaviour to reduce the risk of concussion, we believe that the threshold for receiving a card for a high-tackle is currently too high,” stated the report.
Dr Simon Kemp, the RFU’s medical services director, also suggested further “significant changes” to the laws of the game may be required after the statistics revealed the highest ‘burden of match injury’ (a combination of injury incidence and their severity) since 2002. “There is strong evidence that while the likelihood of injury in the professional game appears to be stable, the increase in injury severity we are seeing means the overall burden of injury is increasing,” said Kemp. “The data suggests more significant changes to the game might be needed to reverse these trends.”
Action has already been taken to reduce the startlingly high rates of injury suffered by players training with England. The severity and number of injuries combined were five times above the domestic average last year and Nigel Melville, the RFU’s acting chief executive, says Eddie Jones’s regime has been the subject of some concern. “We did recognise a problem and we have discussed it at the Professional Game Board,” said Melville. “International players train at greater intensity, so we’re trying to manage players better as they transition from one environment to another. We think that is starting to show some positive signs.”
Overall the average severity of match injuries – ie the length of time it takes to return to play for 2017-18 – has risen to 37 days, the second consecutive season the figure has been above its expected upper limit. Encouragingly, there was a small reduction in concussions compared with 2016-17, with one fewer concussion every eight games. However, the mean severity of medically diagnosed match concussions was 19 days, the second successive year this figure has increased. In six cases players took more than 84 days to return to play following concussion.
For the third consecutive year concussion also emerged as the most common injury, followed by hamstring injuries. Concussion accounted for 18 per cent of all injuries to the ball carrier and 37 per cent of all injuries to the tackler, highlighting the tackle as the key area for the game to consider. The 2017-18 season is the first that the incidence of all injuries was greater for the tackler than the ball carrier, with 52 per cent of all match injuries being associated with the tackle.
No other union in the world has collated such detailed data over such a length of time. Maintenance of artificial pitches are also set to become part of Premiership minimum standards criteria based on evidence showing that injuries sustained on an artificial surface tend to be more severe than those which occur on grass.
Richard Bryan, rugby director at the RPA, believes it is now “essential” the sport acts on the key findings in the latest report. “Given how the game has evolved over the past decade, the Professional Rugby Injury Surveillance Project is now more important than ever,” said Bryan. “We are committed to addressing the issues raised in this report and must continue to adapt as a sport to ensure we are protecting the welfare of our players.” – Guardian service