Rugby's grisly toll - time to act!

Hillmanhunter1

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It is apparent to anyone who has watched rugby for the 50 or so years that I have that something very fundamental has changed over that time. The modern players have a physique and bulk that only juiced body-builders used to have. As a consequence the game is played with a ferocity and physicality that would have been unknown in times past.

Put Bill Beaumont, JPR Williams, Moss Keane (RIP) or Jean-Pierre Rives on a modern rugby pitch and they'll look like a joke.

I don't buy the notion that this extraordinary change is solely down to diet and training, and I am encouraged to see that Paul Kimmage is on the trail:
Paul Kimmage: - Independent.ie

The price of increased bulk, and a more ferocious playing style, is being paid in corpses. A quick Google search shows that 2018 saw the following fatalities:
Nicholas Chauvin; Nicolas Chauvin dead: Stade Francais academy player succumbs to injuries after suffering broken neck | The Independent
Louis Fajfrowski: Louis Fajfrowski dead: French rugby in mourning as 21-year-old player collapses after falling victim to a heavy tackle - Mirror Online
Nathan Soyeux: French rugby in mourning again as fourth young player dies in eight months - Wales Online
Adrien Descrulhes: Faits divers - Puy-de-Dte
Kyle Barnes: https://www.iol.co.za/capetimes/news/father-of-two-kyle-barnes-dies-from-rugby-injury-17180362
Brodie McCarthy: https://www.iol.co.za/capetimes/news/father-of-two-kyle-barnes-dies-from-rugby-injury-17180362

And for those who retire (relatively) unscathed there is the long term effects of multiple head injuries:
"The elite-rugby group performed worse on tests of complex attention, processing speed, executive functioning, and cognitive flexibility than the non-contact-sport group, and worse than the community-rugby group on complex attention."
A Comparison of Cognitive Function in Former Rugby Union Players Compared with Former Non-Contact-Sport Players and the Impact of Concussion History | SpringerLink

I love rugby, and would hate to see it damaged in any way, but brushing these issues under the carpet does not protect rugby. It is time to have a conversation about the changes necessary to ensure that rugby is a game for everyone (the strong, the swift and the lanky), and that parents will happily send their 7 year-olds off to the rugby club on a Saturday morning.
 


CookieMonster

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It is apparent to anyone who has watched rugby for the 50 or so years that I have that something very fundamental has changed over that time. The modern players have a physique and bulk that only juiced body-builders used to have. As a consequence the game is played with a ferocity and physicality that would have been unknown in times past.

Put Bill Beaumont, JPR Williams, Moss Keane (RIP) or Jean-Pierre Rives on a modern rugby pitch and they'll look like a joke.

I don't buy the notion that this extraordinary change is solely down to diet and training, and I am encouraged to see that Paul Kimmage is on the trail:
Paul Kimmage: - Independent.ie

The price of increased bulk, and a more ferocious playing style, is being paid in corpses. A quick Google search shows that 2018 saw the following fatalities:
Nicholas Chauvin; Nicolas Chauvin dead: Stade Francais academy player succumbs to injuries after suffering broken neck | The Independent
Louis Fajfrowski: Louis Fajfrowski dead: French rugby in mourning as 21-year-old player collapses after falling victim to a heavy tackle - Mirror Online
Nathan Soyeux: French rugby in mourning again as fourth young player dies in eight months - Wales Online
Adrien Descrulhes: Faits divers - Puy-de-Dte
Kyle Barnes: https://www.iol.co.za/capetimes/news/father-of-two-kyle-barnes-dies-from-rugby-injury-17180362
Brodie McCarthy: https://www.iol.co.za/capetimes/news/father-of-two-kyle-barnes-dies-from-rugby-injury-17180362

And for those who retire (relatively) unscathed there is the long term effects of multiple head injuries:
"The elite-rugby group performed worse on tests of complex attention, processing speed, executive functioning, and cognitive flexibility than the non-contact-sport group, and worse than the community-rugby group on complex attention."
A Comparison of Cognitive Function in Former Rugby Union Players Compared with Former Non-Contact-Sport Players and the Impact of Concussion History | SpringerLink

I love rugby, and would hate to see it damaged in any way, but brushing these issues under the carpet does not protect rugby. It is time to have a conversation about the changes necessary to ensure that rugby is a game for everyone (the strong, the swift and the lanky), and that parents will happily send their 7 year-olds off to the rugby club on a Saturday morning.

There's a logical driver behind changing physique of rugby players, that's not saying I agree with it, but I wonder if it's also tied into the wider change in the image of a "real man". Look at any movie in the last 10 years and the male actors, almost regardless of the character they're playing, is unsustainably buff. In a time when obesity is on the increase it's hugely positive to see young guys looking after themselves be it through sport or training, but there's a noticeable cohort which goes too far. It has been a long time since I was involved at a juniour level, but you seen the guys coming up now in the kind of shape you wouldn't see at international level ten/fifteen years ago. The pressure must be enormous. Hugely worrying and not at all positive.
 

locke

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One of the big reason is the availability of substitutions.

When players had to last 90 minutes, they couldn't carry the huge frames that are around now. It's par for the course to see three monstrous front rows, who are all replaced in the 50th minute.

I would like to see the number of substitutions reduced to a level that can reasonably cover injuries (say 3 or 4), but a coach allowed to pick from a full 15 available on the bench.
 

tsarbomb

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Players have gotten bulkier, but medical care has improved too.
 

Buchaill Dana

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I'm not sure this is new. Youngfellas died pre professionalism too.

However there was at least a pretence back then that the authorities gave a sh1t.
 

Sync

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Something has to change, and it's probably something fundamental. Is it time to evaluate the need for scrums for instance?

There are lots of valid criticisms of the NFL but the centralised management of it makes it much easier to implement radical changes quickly. The removal of leading with the head and protection of the QB and kicker has been implemented and made immediate impact. Still stuff to do, but it's being done.

But the overwhelming evidence from the South Africa Concussion reports last year in particular justify radical changes.
 

locke

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Is it time to evaluate the need for scrums for instance?
The incidents quoted in the OP relate to tackles. The victims include both tacklers and those tackled and come from a combination of head and neck injuries.

For those tackled, it may have to be a case of stronger and more consistently applied punishments. There has been talk of restricting tackles to below the waste, but that would seem to put the tackler at greater risk and may make matters worse.

When the injury is to the tackler, the problem is more likely to be caused by bad tackle technique. It's more an issue you see in schools and under-age rugby, although it does exist at upper levels as well. Maybe something like a tackling skills licence before a player can play competitive matches would help.

The biggest benefit though would be to reduce the bulk of players and have law changes that support that. That's where I think fewer substitutions comes in.
 

Gin Soaked

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Drop the #8 and wing forwards. Limit scrums to 20° rotation and 1m travel. Fewer players means more running and less bulk and less need for brute strength. Props would become smaller.

Limit weight to 95kg, assessed during rest periods so as not to risk dehydration.

Red card all high tackles with an automatic penalty try rather than just penalty kick option. Actually enforce this.

Certain sides are very cynical about the rules. Increase penalties and shrink players.

And ban diffene and opiates from the pitch. The amount of painkillers used in rugby is a big problem. These are not just Nurofen plus. (Which might also benefit from a ban).
 
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Paul Kimmage wrote about the medicalisation of the sport where anti inflammatory and other drugs are handed out like smarties on coaches on the way to games in professional clubs.
Rugby Football Unions and players consistently turn their back on it and pretend it is not an issue.

Again and again this is occuring with thought of the impact it is having on players bodies, I think liver failure, kidney problems and other issues will be a factor for retired players in a couple of years and that is not taking into account the war and tear of players bodies.

Players are spending huge amounts of time in the Gym and using supplements to add bulk because that is the requirement of teams. Not unsurprisgingly as this is happening at a professional level it trickles dow very quickly into the amateur and weekend players level where bulk is seen as good.

I can see it getting much much worse for the next 10 years.

Tony Ward has suggested that current pitch is too small for a 15 a side game as the bulk and speed has reduced ability of teams to move the ball around. Perhaps it is time that RU followed what Rugby League did decades ago and reduce the number of players on the pitch.

Know quite a few parents in UK who allowed their kids play rugby at kids level because it was only touch rugby, kids played soccer as well as cricket. When kids became teens there was a deliberate steer away from rugby. This was from parents who had played it, they saw over previous 10 years the level of injuries once kids started playing full contact rugby, including one paraplegic.

Worked with a guy 25 years ago who was an England B international and tipped for a full cap, 2 smashed legs in a tackle kept him out for a year and while he returned to playing Rugby it was never at a level where he would be capped. He bemoaned his bad luck once on a night out but then mentioned players he had played with, one was then a paraplegic and then other had significant concussion injuries that meant he spend lots of time in a mental hospital.

Media will of course play down Rugby injuries as they have done for years.
 

Sync

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Yeah I think the size of the pitch and the players is a big part of it. Having a guy with 20kg of muscle more than his 1990 counterpart coming on for a 20 minute run is obviously going to have an impact on what he hits. The size of the pitch increases the number of hits, and reduces tries.

There really is a lot to do, and we're not seeing the concrete steps that have been taken in other sports.
 

SuirView

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It's not an easy thing to do but rugby needs to get rid of drugs.
It's going to ruin the game.
Rugby officials and the media are turning a blind eye.
They should bite the bullet and act now.
 

Gin Soaked

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Yeah I think the size of the pitch and the players is a big part of it. Having a guy with 20kg of muscle more than his 1990 counterpart coming on for a 20 minute run is obviously going to have an impact on what he hits. The size of the pitch increases the number of hits, and reduces tries.

There really is a lot to do, and we're not seeing the concrete steps that have been taken in other sports.
Given the size limits of stadia, is it easier to reduce the team to 12? Lose the flankers and no8.

Would also reduce number of players at the breakdown , so less likely to see 20 phases of play like we do occasionally now.
 

Roberto Jordan

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Given the size limits of stadia, is it easier to reduce the team to 12? Lose the flankers and no8.

Would also reduce number of players at the breakdown , so less likely to see 20 phases of play like we do occasionally now.
Rugby isnt alone in modern training methods making teh size of the field anachronistic , and not just for health reasons - it impacts the nature of the games. See also gaelic football and , to a lesser extent, hurling. Same issues as play stylistically due to increased physical confrontation, reduced space and improved ball retention. But obv rugby has, to some extent, the added potential of more serious physical issues.

Im not a rugby fan but I nod to teh poster upthread who mentioned that the increase in bulk is also reflective of a wider social change. My general and selfish concern in terms of Ireland and gaelic games specifically is that rugby's media presence and social cache is pushing both young men in general and sports men, and their coaches , specifically down the bulked physique route.
Quite apart from the impact on both the safety and style of ball games this is also, IMO, a bad choice in the long term in terms of life long fitness. Heavy weight training is absolutely part of the ideal fitness regime for everyone without ailment or disability, but not to the exclusion or pushing to secondary place of aerobic exercise. Far better retiring from one's chosen sport with the physique of a slightly bulked 800m runner than that of a heavy weight boxer. While hurling and gaelic football are my games int woudl be best if teens and young lads in their 20's aspired the phsyiques of pro soccer players than an Irish international rugby center.
 

Sync

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Given the size limits of stadia, is it easier to reduce the team to 12? Lose the flankers and no8.

Would also reduce number of players at the breakdown , so less likely to see 20 phases of play like we do occasionally now.
There's also an economic aspect to this as well. The current model's not working. 7s is growing in popularity, and is at the Olympics now. Some sort of hybrid with more excitement, more tries for the casual viewer, which would coincide with making the game safer and more accessible seems inevitable.
 

MsDaisyC

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You don't have to have a head injury to suffer with concussion. The body blows can cause it too, as the brain hits the skull due to the impact.
 

locke

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There's also an economic aspect to this as well. The current model's not working. 7s is growing in popularity, and is at the Olympics now. Some sort of hybrid with more excitement, more tries for the casual viewer, which would coincide with making the game safer and more accessible seems inevitable.
There is a 10s version of the game, with no back row forwards, no full back and one centre fewer. I can't say I've ever seen it played though and it seems to largely be played as a stepping-stone from non-contact rugby to full-contact rugby in the major rugby countries. Seems more popular as a full version in countries where the sport is developing.
 

gerhard dengler

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The players these days are professionals, so any comparison between players today, and all players pre 1995, are a waste of time. Oranges and apples.

The change in player physique between 1995 and today however makes for valid comparison and contrast

If we allow a couple of years to bed in professionalism, compare the physiques of guys playing in 2003 rugby world cup with players playing in 2015 rugby world cup.
The 2003 physiques are smaller and lighter. Martin Johnson, England, is a big man and he looked big in 2003.
By 2015 standards, he'd be average compared to the second rows playing.

Is this change in physiques as a result of evolution? Higher standards of training?

You read Paul O'Connell's biography. O'Connell is the prototype modern player who started in the amateur era. But even within the professional era, O'Connell tells that standards and preparation levels were constantly changing. Where a player might go a for a pint after a great result before during the professional era, by 2009/10 that behaviour was not tolerated. Diet and preparation and sheer pressure to perform required players to strictly adhere to a system.

Is there doping going on?
Is taking pain killers to "get through the game" doping?

My own view is that performance enhancing drugs ie. where a players physical performance is improved/enhanced is doping for sure.
But I'm less certain about whether taking a pain killer to be on the field of play amounts to doping.
 

CatullusV

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Given the size limits of stadia, is it easier to reduce the team to 12? Lose the flankers and no8.

Would also reduce number of players at the breakdown , so less likely to see 20 phases of play like we do occasionally now.
Forget stadiums. Pitch sizes can be a problem. Look at hockey, played at higher levels almost exclusively on astroturf or a later variant of that. The pitches are fixed size, but over the last thirty years greater fitness levels, strength and new skills developed on these surfaces have meant that there is far less room for manouevre on these pitches. Hockey may have to reduce numbers too.

There's another issue the concussive one - where the head injury may not be caused immediately by the rugby tackle itself. There may not be any contact to the head at all. It's the landing of head on even soft and relatively cushioned earth. The cushioning can set up some of rippling and bouncing effect. It's counterintuitive, I know, but was explored (I think) in a documentary commissioned by rte some time ago. From what I've heard, the producers got very little assistance from rugby authorities in making it.

One final point about safety in sport: expect to read of death or serious injury in cricket spectators. The grounds are the same size, but the newer bats (and, again, greater bulk in batsmen), along with different batting strategies encouraged by mass TV audiences, mean that the ball is sailing in the crowds far more often. Sixes are now a ritual expectation rather than an exception. Turn to your mate at the wrong moment and you can be twonked in a bad way.
 

CatullusV

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The players these days are professionals, so any comparison between players today, and all players pre 1995, are a waste of time. Oranges and apples.

The change in player physique between 1995 and today however makes for valid comparison and contrast

If we allow a couple of years to bed in professionalism, compare the physiques of guys playing in 2003 rugby world cup with players playing in 2015 rugby world cup.
The 2003 physiques are smaller and lighter. Martin Johnson, England, is a big man and he looked big in 2003.
By 2015 standards, he'd be average compared to the second rows playing.

Is this change in physiques as a result of evolution? Higher standards of training?

You read Paul O'Connell's biography. O'Connell is the prototype modern player who started in the amateur era. But even within the professional era, O'Connell tells that standards and preparation levels were constantly changing. Where a player might go a for a pint after a great result before during the professional era, by 2009/10 that behaviour was not tolerated. Diet and preparation and sheer pressure to perform required players to strictly adhere to a system.

Is there doping going on?
Is taking pain killers to "get through the game" doping?

My own view is that performance enhancing drugs ie. where a players physical performance is improved/enhanced is doping for sure.
But I'm less certain about whether taking a pain killer to be on the field of play amounts to doping.
The question about which medications are appropriate was illustrated to me som years ago. Injections of anti-inflammatories and pain-killers are routinely used in top-level soccer. The "magic sponge". I once had the dubious privilege of visiting the players' bar in a Premiership club. There were lots of relatively recently retired players there. At the entrance was what looked like a fairly impressive umbrella stand. It was filled with crutches.

Things seem to have moved on. Maybe the science behind short-term palliative relief is better, but it was a striking sight.
 

Buchaill Dana

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The players these days are professionals, so any comparison between players today, and all players pre 1995, are a waste of time. Oranges and apples.

The change in player physique between 1995 and today however makes for valid comparison and contrast

If we allow a couple of years to bed in professionalism, compare the physiques of guys playing in 2003 rugby world cup with players playing in 2015 rugby world cup.
The 2003 physiques are smaller and lighter. Martin Johnson, England, is a big man and he looked big in 2003.
By 2015 standards, he'd be average compared to the second rows playing.

Is this change in physiques as a result of evolution? Higher standards of training?

You read Paul O'Connell's biography. O'Connell is the prototype modern player who started in the amateur era. But even within the professional era, O'Connell tells that standards and preparation levels were constantly changing. Where a player might go a for a pint after a great result before during the professional era, by 2009/10 that behaviour was not tolerated. Diet and preparation and sheer pressure to perform required players to strictly adhere to a system.

Is there doping going on?
Is taking pain killers to "get through the game" doping?

My own view is that performance enhancing drugs ie. where a players physical performance is improved/enhanced is doping for sure.
But I'm less certain about whether taking a pain killer to be on the field of play amounts to doping.
Even Kimmage fell short of calling it doping.

The issue is players have to take thar amount of that strength painkillers to recover, the long term consequences and the fact nobody in power cares. Even the NFL stepped in on similar.
 


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