Rugby is a sport which has evolved to a great extent since its birth. The first record of rugby being played was in 1823 when, apparently, a particularly rebellious child playing a football match decided enough was enough and that he would just pick the football up and run. Rugby has always, it seems, been regarded as quite a physical game but, in the present day, is it becoming too physical and violent, especially at a school level?
Ahhh – the good old days of P6 and P7, where school rugby was great! Running rings around our opponents (literally!): playing with the JB3s and JA3s basically involved lots of missed tackles, oodles of fun and incredibly high-scoring games. I distinctly remember a game at Goldenacre against Glasgow Academy in P7 when our ‘three’s team’ (generally regarded as rubbish…) put goodness knows how many tries and points against our western rivals that day – I scored a hat trick) – and rugby was genuinely very enjoyable. However, nowadays, things are slightly different (not necessarily in terms of enjoyment, but in the major traits of the game).
Obviously, the further up in school you actually go (and the same generally is true concerning professional rugby), the bigger the players and the more physical the game actually gets, but how does this actually affect the number of injuries and the number of participants competing in the sport?
Well, according to online statistics, on average “1 in 4 rugby players will be injured during the course of a season”. If you consider the sheer size and scale of those involved in the sport, at both school, junior, amateur and professional level, 1 in 4 must amount to an awful lot! But what kind of injuries can occur?
The most common types of injuries sustained whilst playing a rugby match cannot simply be pinned to rugby – such as bruising, cuts and muscular strains. In sports such as football, although the chance of picking up an injury is generally not as great, most minor injuries (such as those classified above) occur throughout a grand variety of sports. So, is rugby really more dangerous than football, a sport in which Everton and Northern Ireland defender Seamus Coleman recently broke his leg after being on the resultant end of a horror tackle?
Well, sadly, the statistics on rugby become more damning…
Another fairly common injury in rugby is to the head. According to statistics on physioworld.com.au, 5-25% of injuries received in the sport involve the head – the most fragile (and important, I argue) area of the human body. Concussions are very dangerous in particular – because, if they are not spotted and treated quickly enough, they can cause more severe and long-lasting damage on the human brain which is a terrible and devastating thing…
I always found that, when attempting to practise the ‘tackling technique’, it resulted in the occasional knock to the head. This is because tackling essentially requires you to get down low and hit your opponent as hard as you can with your shoulder; also wrapping your arms tightly around their legs in a desperate attempt to ‘bring them down’. One minute misjudgement of this process (“eye to thigh; cheek to cheek; shoulder boulder; bands of steel” as we were told) could result in missing the tackle or, indeed, getting your head in the wrong place, before your shoulder: a dangerous place. This chance of error is what results in the majority of head injuries in the sport – and something that is almost unavoidable.
In conclusion, rugby is a sport which, unfortunately, is gaining press for the number of injuries sustained to players. However, it is understandable and an inevitable consequence that, at school level, some players are not going to naturally tackle perfectly and it is this that eventually results in injury. So, ever since its origins, rugby has been a sport involving tackling – it has always been physical – but, nowadays, health and safety is much more strict and stringent. Therefore, it is not the evolution of rugby but the evolution of the human race – striving to achieve greater safety in our world – that has resulted in rugby’s criticism.
The million-dollar question is, will its very physical structure still entice kids into contesting at the bottom of ‘the ladder’? We’ll wait and see…