There’s been talk in the press of banning tackling from the game of rugby for school age children. I used to play rugby for my school and county and I loved it. It was about the only sport that I’d ever been good at; except for a brief growing spurt where I seemed to be able to run faster than the wind.
Rugby, like lots other competitive
team sports, has lots to offer. It’s a great team game and teaches you a range
of skills from strategy and hand-eye coordination through to singing a good
sweary song in the showers. Unfortunately, according to the British Journal of
Sports Medicine, the structure at the heart of the game, namely the collisions
and tackling involved that moves the game forward, has a ridiculously and
frightening high injury rate.
One piece of recent research followed 825 school-aged rugby players for one academic year. There were 426 injuries, of which 204 - almost a quarter of the total - kept the children from playing sport for 28 days or longer. It also found that there were 81 diagnosed concussions – that’s ten percent of the players in the survey. Thinking back I probably realised this when I played, in fact in my day it was probably higher.
We live in a society where kids are coddled. They don’t climb trees or play out late. They don’t take themselves off to school aged seven and hardly any of them have ever swum in a river on a hot summer’s afternoon. Parents wrap children in cotton wool and health and safety, along with the fear of litigation, stops schools from allowing almost anything in the playground including conkers. Of course rugby isn’t conkers. It’s an extreme contact sport more dangerous than boxing and many more schoolchildren play rugby than put on the gloves.
I’ve done both and I have to say, although my dalliance with the ring was short lived, I didn’t get the weekly injuries I did playing rugby. Nor did I end up in hospital flat on my back for weeks waiting for my inverted collarbone to fix itself back in place.
Thinking about my rugby playing schooldays I realise now just how much injury and pain it involved. Dislocations were common, bruises and bloodied noses not worth mentioning, and the pitch was often strewn with boys who had knocked each other out in a hard tackle. Once I heard the crack of bone as a femur snapped from twenty yards away and on one sad season a boy was killed. I still loved playing though. I loved the winning, the team, the muscles I developed and the thrill of finding myself on the team when I checked the notice board under the library. It made me one of the lads and girls were pretty impressed too.
Looking back though, it seems mad somehow. Why put yourself in so much danger and pain for a game? I was young, but I wasn’t stupid and after the incident with my collar bone I didn’t play much because I couldn’t go in hard on the tackle for fear it would pop again. I shouldn’t have played at all according to what the hospital said, but I still did for a while even though my collar bone threatens to come out even today when I lift a heavy box.
So where do I stand nowadays?
The alternative is that rugby will eventually die out in schools and that would be a terrible shame.