The Premiership’s injury price tag is mounting and attitudes need to change

first_img Gloucester’s Matt Scott grimaces with pain after suffering a knee injury. Photograph: Phil Hutchinson/Action Plus via Getty Images Twitter Share on Pinterest Read more Since you’re here… The authorities are playing catch-up. How on earth is it ethically possible for a player to be knocked cold late in a game without his coach being able to replace him, as has now happened to Bath and Gloucester on successive Friday nights? With a permanent head-related removal being, well, permanent, the regulations do not permit a temporary sub. Some argue it is the fault of coaches for deploying their subs too early and that the same dispensation is unavailable if a player breaks a leg. To which the answer is blindingly obvious: we have only one brain and, for that reason, head injuries should be classified differently.Frankly it is a loophole which should be closed immediately – or, at the very latest, by the end of the week. Whatever the official statistics insist, players are absorbing greater impacts more often than at any stage in the game’s history. George Ford is being applauded for making 29 tackles in the past two weekends but even that stat tells a darker story. Once upon a time, creative fly-halves made approximately one tackle per season, mostly on fellow backs. Now Uncle Tom Cobley et al are stamping down the 10 channel as a matter of course, to the point where Rollerball and professional rugby are becoming indistinguishable. Risk and reward have never been so wincingly intertwined. It is approaching 40 years, remarkably, since two tone music was in vogue and The Specials were topping the charts with Too Much Too Young. The lyrics related to teenage motherhood not professional club rugby, which did not yet exist, but they still sprang to mind over the weekend. Too much pain, too many rugby players going off prematurely, too many contenders for an arthritic (or worse) old age.You can tell things are in danger of getting out of hand when several clubs turn up for round four of the Premiership season with a third of their squads already sidelined. Wasps have been heavily hit, the table-topping Exeter Chiefs even more so. Worcester Warriors are a casualty ward dressed up as a professional sporting team. In the Harlequins v Leicester game the England flanker Chris Robshaw was knocked out, there were two further failed head injury assessments and his colleagues Mike Brown and Marcus Smith also limped into England’s training camp in Oxford. It is not yet October. Premiership Share on WhatsApp Rugby union Share via Email Pinterest Harlequins’ Demetri Catrakilis is carried off against Gloucester. Photograph: Steve Bardens/Getty Images for Harlequins World Rugby rejects ‘alarmist’ call for tackling and scrum ban in school sport Concussion in sport Facebook features Facebook Corridor of uncertaintyThe Rugby Football Union’s new chief executive, Steve Brown, is getting his feet under the committee room table at an interesting time in rugby’s history. Never has there been a more obvious need for English rugby to think beyond its own nose, for the greater good, if the game is to continue to prosper everywhere, not just among the unions with the most buoyant balance sheets. The latest doomed idea to rejig the Six Nations fixture list by giving England and France alternative dates from everyone else understandably united every single one of their neighbours in opposition. Brown’s objective must be to build bridges, not dynamite them.One to watch this weekendLet’s just say the Rugby Championship needs an eye-catching performance from a team other than the one wearing black. South Africa v Australia in Bloemfontein and Argentina v New Zealand in Buenos Aires will also be closely monitored in the northern hemisphere; a brace of rousing home wins would certainly inject fresh interest into the upcoming internationals in Europe in November. Support The Guardian Topics Reuse this content The early-season attrition rate certainly suggests the game has a way to go in terms of safeguarding its leading participants. Ben Youngs’s first-hand testimony this week was merely the latest warning klaxon. The heavy-duty clear-outs at multiplying breakdowns, the artificial surfaces upon which joints can be cruelly twisted, the aerial lunacy of players being coached to jump towards opponents, the sheer volume of fitter, faster, more dynamic bodies … the game is undoubtedly better to watch but the price tag is mounting. Simmonds’s mistake on Sunday was to get his head on the wrong side in tackling Hughes. In his defence, with huge players changing direction at blinding pace, the “right” side can become the “wrong” one in an instant.None of this is reported with any hint of pleasure, more the personal sorrow of knowing precisely how it feels to be a rugby player with a long-term injury. Dislocated shoulders, broken ankles, cracked wrists, ruptured knee ligaments, the resultant self-doubt … eventually it was not the actual injuries that ground down this rugby-obsessed teenager but the dispiriting prospect of yet another bout of extended rehab. Never in a million years did those of us forced to retire at 19 because our bodies could take no more ever imagine we might be the lucky ones. Madness, they call it madness. Twitter … we have a small favour to ask. More people, like you, are reading and supporting the Guardian’s independent, investigative journalism than ever before. And unlike many news organisations, we made the choice to keep our reporting open for all, regardless of where they live or what they can afford to pay.The Guardian will engage with the most critical issues of our time – from the escalating climate catastrophe to widespread inequality to the influence of big tech on our lives. At a time when factual information is a necessity, we believe that each of us, around the world, deserves access to accurate reporting with integrity at its heart.Our editorial independence means we set our own agenda and voice our own opinions. Guardian journalism is free from commercial and political bias and not influenced by billionaire owners or shareholders. This means we can give a voice to those less heard, explore where others turn away, and rigorously challenge those in power.We hope you will consider supporting us today. We need your support to keep delivering quality journalism that’s open and independent. Every reader contribution, however big or small, is so valuable. Support The Guardian from as little as $1 – and it only takes a minute. Thank you. Share on Facebook Charles Piutau: ‘I felt invincible as an All Black … but it’s such a short career’ Read more Share on LinkedIn Tapping up the depressing news of Billy Vunipola’s latest long-term knee injury – whilst looking up from the keyboard to watch the Chiefs’ Sam Simmonds being carried off on a stretcher – was another grim sign of the times. Happily the young flanker was back up on his feet after the game but the justified praise Nathan Hughes received for tending to his stricken opponent masked a less comfortable reality. We are so used to prone bodies being carted off, the use of emergency oxygen masks and the inevitable months of post-surgery rehabilitation that the bleeding obvious is being overlooked: we are talking about a sport here, not a serious road traffic accident.These attitudes are suddenly so normalised at the top level of the game that Danny Cipriani recently tweeted of his good fortune at “only” being sidelined for two months by his knee ligament injury. How many other sports in the world share that philosophical mindset? Imagine if most professional authors or musicians were suddenly unable to use their fingers for eight to 10 weeks of the year. Or, as with the prematurely retired George Lowe and Will Fraser, were permanently chopped down in their prime. At Worcester, post-match casualty lists have become such a grim litany the club even issued a directive this season (since rescinded) forbidding reporters from asking injury-related questions at press conferences.We have not even mentioned the dreaded acronymn CTE, which stands for chronic traumatic encephalopathy, a degenerative brain disease which now features as regularly in American gridiron reporting as the word touchdown. All involved in a contact sport like rugby have to realise a head knock is not some kind of minor graze but something to be treated with the utmost seriousness. Club officials need to be urged to “recognise and remove” and not be tempted, in a tight situation, to turn a blind eye should a player take a glancing hit and fleetingly lose consciousness. Pinterest Share on Messenger Share on Twitterlast_img