Updated: September 25, 2021 7:56:25 am
Gnarled, cracked and poetically scarred they might have been in the past, Rugby Union is now dealing with the pile-ups of concussions and early-onset dementia. World Rugby was compelled to reckon with this reality of the bleeding obvious and the non-bleeding unseen trauma last December, when former England and Lions hooker Steve Thompson led a group of retired players in a landmark legal case against WR, the Rugby Football Union and the Welsh Rugby Union after being diagnosed. On Thursday, WR unveiled new guidelines that limit full-blooded contact training to 15 minutes a week to help reduce impact injuries in training.
What do the fresh guidelines mandate?
The game’s governing body, along with International Rugby Players (IRP), announced a six-point checklist. It recommended restricting midweek contact training to two days, broken down into three categories: 15 minutes per week of full-contact training during which players may go full throttle and operate at high speed in body-to-body collisions, 40 minutes of controlled contact utilising tackle shields and pads, running at reduced speeds, and 30 minutes of live set-piece training with lineouts, scrums and mauls at a high intensity.
Will it be implemented?
While not mandatory, the guidelines are expected to be adopted at all levels by WR.
“It would certainly be our intention to write it into the terms of participation for future Rugby World Cups,” Mark Harrington, World Rugby director of technical services was quoted by Sport 24, hinting at the rules being enforced in the leadup to the 2023 World Cup qualifiers.
“It is a soft guideline for the minute, but I think over time it will gain some teeth.”
How was the study conducted?
World Rugby combined with top tier clubs like Champions Cup winners Leinster, French biggies Clermont Auvergne and Benetton Treviso to assess the mechanism, incidence and intensity of head impact events using mouth-guard technology and video analysis according to The42. The Prevent Biometrics technology recorded the largest ever comparable head impact database in the sport. Four contact elements were studied: volume of full-contact in minutes, intensity of collisions, density of the impacts within the timeframe, and the unpredictability of the hits.
What are the simultaneous trends in other sports?
There are parallels with the National Football League (NFL) which limited full-contact training back in 2011. The Guardian quoted Éanna Falvey, WR’s chief medical officer, as saying “this is not a neat comparison as the NFL is contested by 32 teams that are more easily regulated. Furthermore, 70 to 80% of NFL player injuries occur during training compared to 30 to 40% in rugby.”
It might well be 30-40 percent too many. Independent studies conducted at the University of South Wales found rugby players were harmed by repetitive hammerings. Reduction in blood flow to the brain and cognitive function could result from cumulative effects and not one-off incidents of concussion, all pointing to the necessity of reduction in full-contact training where possible. Headers in football and bouncers in cricket have blipped on the scanner, but talk of policing both faces scorn and resistance from players and fans.
Is everyone welcoming it in Rugby Union?
Somewhat. The Southern Hemisphere is murmuring its bubbles of doubt if not discontent. Australia coach Dave Rennie, while stating that these measures were necessary, aired some of his legit concerns, telling Sydney Morning Herald: “35 to 40 percent of injuries happen at training, that means 60-65 percent happen in games. From a training point of view, we’re making sure we’re getting conditioning load and contact load into them so that they can deal with it on game day, and they’ve got the technique required.”
He sought clarity on ‘full contact’ including when players donned full body padded suits, a staple in modern rugby training.
“We suit our boys up a bit. I guess they would still have that full contact, bone on bone. But they’re often in three or four-minute hits. Tuesday’s training, we had two four-minute blocks where we have full teams going. Eight minutes, bone on bone in that part,” Rennie explained. “From a set-piece point of view, there is a lot of live mauling. You can’t get away from that in our game. I understand the importance of looking after the athlete, but we also need to understand that they need to be trained, appropriately, to deal with the physical nature of our game.”
What about the 15-minute claim?
All Blacks coach Ian Foster asked for expanding the 15-minute rule, though by ‘his ‘gut feel,’’15 minutes felt about right. Otago University in New Zealand is undertaking parallel research on understanding the “nature and frequency of head impacts” in the game.
Rennie though had a bemused bite at the 15 minutes diktat. “Who’s timing it?” Rennie said to SMH. “I’m sure there has been a lot of work that has gone on to come up with these numbers. They’re talking at every level. Are they going to have 1st XV coaches with a stopwatch? I’m not certain how that will pan out.”
Newsletter | Click to get the day’s best explainers in your inbox
📣 The Indian Express is now on Telegram. Click here to join our channel (@indianexpress) and stay updated with the latest headlines
- The Indian Express website has been rated GREEN for its credibility and trustworthiness by Newsguard, a global service that rates news sources for their journalistic standards.