Injury prevention within rugby paying dividends

Otago Daily Times     05 Nov 2004    

Ken Quarrie, who manages the New Zealand Rugby Union's (NZRU) research and injury prevention unit, highlighted the saving as one example of a more "embedded" approach to safety and injury prevention in rugby since the sport went professional.

Dental injuries had decreased 43 percent since 1997, when it became compulsory for all domestic rugby players to wear mouthguards, saving an estimated $1 million in ACC claims since, he said.

Key changes in the sport since professionalism included the growing size of players, new styles of tackling and the changing prevalence of scrums and rucks.

Halfbacks, traditionally the smallest players on the field, were now as big as some former All Blacks forwards, he said.

When it came to tackles and rucks, the two most dangerous parts of the game, that meant "more energy involved in those collisions".

"The players have got bigger. The locks have got a little taller and most of the other players have become more similar in terms of physique," he said.

He said changes in defensive screens and other changes in the style of rugby played meant more emphasis on recycling the ball through rucks.

Changes in tackling style were also evident, with front-on upper body tackles now the most common.

Tackles accounted for 54 percent of all injuries in last year's Super 12 competition, two-thirds of those resulting in injury to the ball-carrier and one-third the tackler, he said.

The number of scrums in a game had decreased, but those that were formed involved more "power scrummaging".

"They are... getting very low and driving in hard, so there's a lot of force going in there," he said.

Knees were the part of the body most susceptible to injury, receiving 21 percent of all injuries in last year's Super 12, but injuries were "distributed throughout the body, because it's a full contact sport," he said.

Safety initiatives targeting the causes of serious injuries had significantly helped cut the number of players missing matches, and also helped reduce the occurrence of more minor injuries, he said.

The "Rugby Smart" partnership between the NZRU and Accident Compensation Corporation, launched in 2001, was one example.

It advocated a 10-point injury action plan emphasising the importance of proper fitness and proper injury management to players and coaches, he said.

Severe injuries were not common but could, nevertheless, be "life changing".

The risk had to be weighed against the benefits of contact sport, and the focus was on removing unnecessary injuries from the sport.

"There are costs involved to a greater or lesser extent depending on the injury, but there's also a lot of enjoyment to be gained from contact sport."