sports gazette

An injury crisis in rugby union at amateur level?

A rugby player nurses an injury. Photo credit: Robert Ferron.
Published: 18 Oct 2017

As injury lists grow, it becomes more and more difficult for rugby sides to field strong teams. The rates of collisions continue to rise, so injuries in rugby remain a major problem. Recently Bernard Jackman revealed that 29 of his Dragons players were unable to play due to injury. Sports Gazette’s Tomas Meehan decided to speak to the president of rugby union at St. Mary’s University, Matt Lamin, as well as an amateur player and a physiotherapist to uncover the issues injuries cause at club level in comparison those faced at elite level.

Grassroots sport is where it all begins and without it there would be no elite sport. Having played school rugby myself on the wing, I managed to escape relatively unscathed but then as Benedict White, student at Swansea University points out: “university would have a similar level of injury to professionals due to players being grown men, [and] a constant level of physicality in the games, [whereas there is] not quite that level say in schoolboy rugby.”

Though there is a key difference between the treatment of injuries at professional and amateur level. Lamin says: “at the top level there’s a lot more preparation that goes into stopping those injuries in particular soft tissue injuries, a lot of those are avoided through strength and conditioning.”

“Unfortunately the amateur side doesn’t have that support, so I think that’s definitely an area where amateur players are more susceptible to injuries”.

Like many of the elite counterparts, White has had to be sidelined for an extended period of time. Speaking of his injuries he said: “rolled both my ankles, dislocated my knee and injured my lower back”.

But could his lengthy time out have been avoided? Lamin thinks that a lot of amateur players do spend a too much time on the sidelines because they are often not getting the necessary treatment that is available to the professionals.

He said: “In general the professional guys will have very good treatment, if an operation is needed, that’s normally quite a quick process and then the rehab that follows up is normally very good. For an amateur player, for a university player those injuries tend to have a much bigger impact and those injuries that are sustained – it’s a longer process to recover.”

Though Hannah Fernando, a physiotherapist at Crystal Palace Sports Injury Clinic adds: “the recovery process [from injuries] in terms of healing time frames is the same for any sport, but the rehab process might be longer in rugby however due to the demands of the sport”.

But rugby players suffer from aches and pains regularly as well, even when fit. Recently, Leicester Tigers’ Dan Cole spoke of “stiffness” and “fatigue” on BBC’s ‘Rugby Union: An Injury Crisis?’ White echos his words: “Definitely always feel sore after a game or high contact session for at least a day or two after. [I] can’t speak for all players but would expect the same – especially forwards.

Lamin adds: “University players definitely suffer from the same stiffness and soreness following a game. Unfortunately again it comes back to that treatment, whereas the likes of Dan Cole will be going for the treatment at the club, the massages etc. we don’t have access to that”.

The collisions obviously play a role in causing these injuries. Fernando says that in “other sports [such as non-contact sports] you don’t need to be as strong or agile as the demands of the sport are less. Athletics for example is non-contact, linear forces, [so] no twisting/pivoting.”

Recovery is critical in sport and even more so in a contact sport though as the demands of rugby increase, so will the need for adequate recovery. In the absence of qualified staff to deal with injuries amateur rugby players can often be at a loss as to what to do and will obviously need to do their own research.

In addition to that, Lamin tells us that not only are rugby players growing in size across all positions, they’re also more athletic. He says that “amateur players aren’t conditioned to the fact that the game is getting harder, whereas professional players are, so I think it will have an impact for sure”. This will continue to cause more problems for amateurs than professionals.

With that said, rugby is a contact sport and while there are ways to improve it, according to both White and Lamin, there will always be an element of danger.

White said: “All players understand the physical nature of the game and for me that’s part of what makes the game what it is.”

Two of the key areas Lamin says the game has been trying to make safer are the scrum area and concussions. While concussions are a hotly discussed topic in rugby, spinal injuries from forwards locking horns in the scrum is also a major issue, even if less talked about.

While Lamin thinks the game can be made safer, he believes that we should “stick to the roots of rugby”. Otherwise it will take away from the values of the sport, of why people watch and play rugby in the first place.

Rugby seems to embody the warrior in those who play it. Enthusiasts at every level of the sport are aware of the risks involved with playing rugby. But ultimately they stress there shouldn’t be too much reason to reform the game as that is what makes rugby, rugby.

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