World Cup Rugby – Protecting our players
Posted on 8th October 2015
England’s premature exit from the World Cup has left fans reeling with disappointment. Stuart Lancaster will go down in history as the first coach of a host nation to go out in the pool stages of the World Cup.
England’s defeat sends Wales into the quarter finals. So with their place secure, and in light of the concussions, broken noses and damaged eye sockets suffered by the Welsh side will Warren Gatland consider resting key players ahead of Saturday’s game against Australia? Or more importantly should he?
This world cup has seen far more injuries than in 2011 and this is the picture in rugby at both professional and amateur level. Most injuries occur during contact or collision with concussion and traumatic brain injury being a routine occurrence.
So is enough being done to protect players in the professional game? Hardly. Historically players with concussion had to come off the pitch and were not able to play for at least a week. However in 2012 a new pitch side concussion assessment was put in place, commonly known as the 5 minute rule. This new protocol received a lot of criticism and in 2014 the period of time for assessment was doubled to 10 minutes but is this enough time to carry out a thorough assessment of a head injury?
Headway, a charity that works to support those who have sustained or are affected by brain injury does not think so. In 2014 Headway’s Chief Executive Peter McCabe criticised the treatment of Toulouse player Clorian Fritz. Following a horrific collision with another player Fritz appeared confused and agitated on the pitch. After only 10 minutes of off pitch treatment he returned to the game. Peter McCabe said “This appalling and shocking incident is a timely reminder of just how much work is still needed in order to change attitude towards head injury in sport”.
Sadly the cavalier attitude of players and coaches show no signs of change. George North, 23 who plays for Wales received a kick to the head during the first half of their opening match in the 2015 Six Nations tournament. After only 8 minutes he returned to the pitch only to then suffer another blow to the head moments later. Warren Gatland has himself said of North that “one or two more serious knocks” could be the end of North’s career.
Concussion and head injuries can be devastating and while immediate symptoms may not appear they can lead to long term cognitive problems. Peter Robinson’s son Ben died in 2011 following a double concussion during a school rugby match when he was 14. After a lot of campaigning changes have been brought in for junior players such as changes to the scrum and, weight limits but this does not go far enough. With almost 1.2 million children playing rugby in schools and plans to promote the sport further there has to be major changes in the laws of the game particularly in respect to tackling, which is the major cause of injuries. A BMJ Poll of doctors indicated 72% of Dr’s felt the game should be made safer.
Should rugby clubs and schools be more responsible? Yes absolutely and this should not stop at simply carrying out a thorough risk assessment of the game. They need to ensure the training supervision and warnings provided by teachers and coaches ensures the safety of children. Most importantly clubs and schools should be carefully monitoring the levels of injuries. This data can be vital in helping too drive safety initiatives which once implemented can hopefully prevent future injuries.