Has modern rugby become too dangerous for youngsters?
April 30, 20155 min read
The world of rugby has come under increased scrutiny recently due to head-knocks and concussions suffered in recent international and professional matches. Infamously, George North’s two concussions in a single match against England was a much talked-about point throughout the Six Nations, as he was instructed to continue playing on afterward. Laws have been changed since, and new procedures mean players must be medically analysed by team physios and doctors off-field before they are allowed to return to the pitch. If the physio deems the player to be unfit to carry on, then he will be substituted. Sports scientists have delved further into modern rugby and the damage it can have on a human body, and have concluded that some of the collisions are similar to being hit by a car. The reports coming to the forefront of websites and newspapers nowadays are obviously frightening for parents who stand on the sidelines and watch their child run excitedly around a rugby pitch, throwing himself into tackles without a care in the world. That is the child’s idea of fun, but it is completely the opposite for the parents. The worrying lack of youths now playing rugby may damage the sport in the long run, and after we at Rugby Stuff posted a link on our Facebook to a BBC article about doctors warnings of school rugby at its physical dangers, we were pleased to see so many people with differing, and extremely well put, opinions. We felt it was best to include possible explanations behind modern rugby and its dangers, and study your arguments on the sport.
You only have to look at the size of a typical professional player in the present day compared to one before the 90s to see how much of an onus is put on becoming bigger and stronger in rugby. Take London Wasps and England back-row player James Haskell for example, he is the epitome of the current rugby player, 6ft 4inches, 119 kg and as wide as a truck. Measure him next to a back-row of the 1980s, in this example, former Bath and England player Andy Robinson, and the similarities couldn’t be further from each other. Robinson was 5ft 9inches and weighed 88kg, and nowadays might be told he is too lightweight to play scrum-half. We understand that we have picked a possibly smaller back-row than we could have for an example, but some of the statistics don’t lie. The average physical attributes of a forward in 1982 was 89.9kg and 1.86m in height, whilst in 2012, the average for a professional forward was 112.9kg and 1.92m, and that has more than likely changed in the last three years as well. It is little surprise that some collisions are being described as ‘car crashes’, especially when you have men of that size running at one another. Teenagers nowadays seem to be gym monkeys, and will consume copious amounts of protein supplements on a daily basis like they have found water in the Sahara. Getting big is the name of the game, the bigger you are, the better you are… or so it seems. The suggestion below shows that some coaches, and former players would like to see an emphasis on skills, rather than size.
We were particularly impressed with the thoughts of Mr. Pearson (below). Some children develop later, and others sooner. Up until around under-15 rugby, it would only make sense for kids to play in their height or weight size. Not only may this prevent injuries, it might also develop players better in terms of ball skills. Time after time at youth level, we witness players shuffle the ball on to the big guy and get him to run through small defenses, who aren’t missing him for a lack of trying, but because sometimes it is physically impossible. By the teenage years, players grow to the same size as the human wrecking ball that was tearing teams apart in the early years, and the easy and direct route to the try-line is brought to an abrupt end. I played my way up from under 6 rugby to senior, and I can speak on behalf of many I’ve played with that it is much more useful to have a player with a brain, than one with brawn. Yes, the big ‘heffalumps’ come in handy now and again, but to have players with a bit of intelligence, can do the world of good, and it can rub off on the whole team. By the time under 16-18 rugby will roll around, guys will have played with all ages growing up, and will have the confidence to try things, and perform to their best ability, whilst also having a bit of fun.
Some parents don’t like their children’s games to be competitive, and only prefer them seen in a friendly manner. Which isn’t something I wholeheartedly agree with. Sure, it is all well and good in the very younger days, but, from a personal point of view, there is nothing better than competing for something. It gives sport that added edge, and kids will have the time of their life if they are striving to win something with their friends in a competitive nature. I can’t say that this competitiveness will not lead to injuries, but that is part and parcel of any sport. I have been on the bad end of a few injuries in my time, but I don’t regret playing rugby in any way. In the same sense as you develop off the field, you can develop as a person on it too, whether that is through training, playing or being coached by men and women who import their passion of the game into clubs around the country. There are countless life-lessons that can be learned through rugby, including camaraderie, communication, and bravery. Former England centre, and now Sky Sports pundit Will Greenwood summed it up perfectly when relating rugby to life, as it is about ‘being knocked down, and getting back up again’.
Rugby is a sport that has been around for hundreds of years, and is always changing, but one constant is the millions of people that love the sport. A particular story that continues to inspire us is that of Matt Hampson. He was an under-21 England prop, and was tipped for big things, until he suffered a horrendous spinal injury when scrumming. Hampson is now in a wheelchair, and requires the permanent use of a ventilator to breathe. However, that hasn’t stopped his love for rugby, and now writes rugby columns, as well as running the ‘Matt Hampson Foundation’, which helps inspire and support young people who have been seriously injured in sport. He is an outstanding example of someone who was affected by rugby, but has not let it change his life, as seen below.
We agree changes must be made to the sport at youth level, but we fully encourage parents to let their children play the sport they love, as it will, without a shadow of a doubt, help them develop as people as well as players.
We thank all those who commented on our Facebook post with their views and opinions on the dangers of youth rugby, and would be very happy to see more in relation with this post.