A health expert has called for rugby to be more closely regulated in schools and for scrums and tackles to be removed from the game at that level.
Allyson Pollock, of Queen Mary University of London, told the Sunday Times that schoolboy rugby players have a one-in-six chance of serious injury every season.
“Imagine as a parent you were told that, over the course of a season, the average risk of serious injury to a player is 17%, or one in six, and that in some schools it is as high as 33%, one in three,” she told the newspaper. “The decision to allow your child to play might alter.”
In her new book – Tackling Rugby: What Every Parent Should Know – she said an injury to her own son prompted her to look into the subject, after which she stopped him playing.
She said that when she started her research she was surprised at the obstacles pout in her way. “My requests for information were polite and reasonable and I did not expect to be stonewalled,” he said. “Nor did I expect to find reluctance on the part of the authorities and government to monitor injuries, or to discover that protecting the reputation of the game had a higher priority.
“But I was mistaken on all counts. The search for truth took my colleagues and me to the heart of the rugby establishment, with its close ties to government and industry, and to the centre of Scottish medicine and the University of Edinburgh.”
Pollock’s report is backed by Pooler Archbold, consultant orthopaedic and trauma surgeon at Royal Victoria Hospital in Belfast, who said that the increasing size of younger players has contributed to the rise in injuries.
“Over the past 12 months I have seen an increasing number of schoolboy rugby players with serious injuries,” he told the newspaper. “Children are getting heavier and stronger. It is not unusual for school players to be over 100kg. Is it the smaller kids getting injured? We might find that it is 16-year-olds getting injured by 18-year-olds.”
The mother of Benjamin Robinson, a 14-year-old who died in 2011 after playing on despite a concussion, said there was a culture of bravado which made things worse. ” It’s almost like a bravery thing if you play through your injury. I think you will always come up against that attitude, whether it be from the coach or the referee.”
The RFU told the newspaper that “player safety and duty of care towards players is at the core of all the training we deliver to coaches, referees and medics” and that while there were risks “we do not believe that this is disproportionate to other sports played by young people”.