World Rugby hits back at ‘extreme and alarmist’ school rugby study

British Medical Journal opinion piece called for a ban on tackling and scrums

Tag rugby
School children playing tag rugby 
(Image credit: John Gichigi/Getty Images)

World Rugby has hit back at calls to ban scrums and tackling in school rugby, saying a new report is “extreme and alarmist”.

The sport’s governing body reacted to research published in the British Medical Journal yesterday by Professor Allyson Pollock and Graham Kirkwood of Newcastle University. They called on the UK’s chief medical officers to “act now” and said governments have a “duty to protect children”.

“World Rugby and its member unions take player safety very seriously and proactively pursue an evidence-based approach to reduce the risk of injury at all levels,” said a spokesman quoted in The Guardian.

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“The continual claims made by Pollock are not based on like-for-like injury statistics and her extreme and alarmist conclusions are simply not supported by the data. It is well documented that, for most sports, injury rates increase with age, but the quoted research mixes 9-12 with 18-20 age groups.”

Meanwhile, the Rugby Football Union’s (RFU) new chief executive Stephen Brown has echoed the statement made by World Rugby.

Brown told The Daily Telegraph: “I don’t think there was anything new in the report. It was stuff that had been out there previously. What we are constantly doing is developing how the game is played for young people and making sure that it is safe, that there is appropriate coaching and that people are aware of what they should be doing and what they shouldn’t be doing at this important development stage.

“There is a lot of research going on in this area. We do everything we can to prepare people. But people have choices to be involved in the sport. The sport is a contact sport. Ultimately, the values and quality of our sport far outweigh the risks attached to it.

“People play our sport because they want to be physically active. They like the values of the sport, its culture and the connection it gives people.”

The Telegraph also says this morning that an RFU exercise programme introduced this year at schools and junior rugby clubs has had a “phenomenal impact” in the reduction of injuries.

In partnership with the University of Bath, the injury-prevention programme has reduced injuries by 72% and concussions by 59%. The study was made on players who completed the programme’s exercises at least three times a week, the Telegraph says.

RFU rugby development director Steve Grainger said: “The injury rates before and after the programme and the reaction and response blew everyone away.

“Overall, injuries went down by 72 per cent and concussions by 59 per cent, which is pretty staggering if based on players doing a 25-minute routine, three times a week.

“The University of Bath came up with this concept of getting these players into a more regular exercise and drills-type environment, which they did not have to be on a rugby pitch to do.

“The idea was that they could do these exercises anywhere – at home in the kitchen, out in the garden or while they were at school. It is relatively simple exercise and drills but the results were absolutely phenomenal.”

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