Stadia Sports manager Daniel Goddard takes a look at the dangers of school rugby and discusses the safety equipment available.
In a recent letter to the Government, more than 70 doctors and health experts asked for a ban on tackling in school rugby games. The letter outlines and warns of the risk of serious injury among under 18s playing the sport, with a recommendation for schools to introduce touch and non-contact versions of the game.
In the current curriculum, rugby is a compulsory part of physical education from the age of 11, and there is particular emphasis on it in the independent sector.
The signatories of the letter include sport scholars, academics, doctors, and public health professionals. They made a strong case for a tackling ban and they said the injuries sustained by under 18s were “often serious” and the risk was high.
Concussion is a common injury in rugby, and the letter highlights a link between "repeat concussions and cognitive impairment and an association with depression, memory loss and diminished verbal abilities".
This type of injury is most common during any contact or collision, such as the scrum, or a tackle. There are some alternatives proposed, such as touch or tag rugby, where tackles are replaced by touching an opponent, or removing a tag from their clothing. Scrums and rucks are also excluded.
At Stadia Sports, we believe it’s vital that schools, parents, and children are aware of the risks associated with playing rugby and that a safe environment and equipment is provided for pupils. Suitable and experienced staff should teach rugby, and how to avoid injury by adopting the proper posture in scrums and using a correct tackling technique, for instance.
While rugby is fun to play, the physicality of the sport does present dangers, especially if you don’t use suitable protective equipment. Rugby union is a physical, full-contact sport – so you expect a few bumps while playing. But with the correct equipment, you can reduce the chances of injuries, and enjoy the sport.
Starting at the feet and working upwards, your first point of call is your rugby boots. Boots may not necessarily seem like protection, but in terms of your safety, choosing the right pair is essential because a slip at the wrong time, for example in a scrum, can be very dangerous.Traditional rugby boots are very similar to football boots, but the thing that makes them different is a high cut designed to give extra support to the ankle. You should choose the pairwhich is most comfortable for you.
A mouth guard is probably the most important piece of protective equipment a rugby player should own. Ideally, you want all your teeth intact when the full-time whistle blows. The gum shield not only protects your teeth and gums during physical contact, it can reduce damage around the jaw and incidences of concussion. Every mouth is different, so every gum shield should be moulded to fit perfectly around the top half of a player's mouth.
Not everyone uses headgear, but if they do, it’s usually made from light synthetic materials capable of mitigating serious impact. They're most commonly used by front row forwards to prevent blows to the head and also damage to their ears while in scrums or mauls. The most important thing to remember, if you wear head protection, is to make sure it is comfortable - otherwise it will cause unwanted pain and injury.
Upper body protection is also a regular feature of the sport. This helps protect areasvulnerable to injury, such as the shoulders and the chest. These often take much of the impact in tackles, so it's important these areas are well protected. Modern upper body protection is made from very strong and lightweight material.
However, even with all this protective equipment, your first port of call in terms of staying safe and steering clear of injury should be maintaining a good technique when coming into contact in both attack and defence. Although the equipment is necessary, you shouldn’t need to use it all the time, but it is good to have, if something does go wrong.