Thursday, 3 March 2016

Tackling the problem...

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?

Rugby is a great game, but I wouldn’t want my kids to play the game the way I used to play it. You can get the benefits of the sport without the hard tackling that our team was infamous for back then. We were a fearsome side, went in hard, took the blows, and our aggression was legendary in the county. We were a big team too, and the competition didn’t really stand much chance as they were about half our size even though they were the same age.

Rugby is inherently dangerous and these days I believe that some form of touch rugby would be better; especially for the under 16’s. There really is no such thing as a safe tackle, any more than there is a safe punch in the ring. Tackling is an essential part of the game at an adult level, but not for ten and eleven year old children.

The alternative is that rugby will eventually die out in schools and that would be a terrible shame.


  1. Anne Donaldson on FB
    Touch rugby is played in the schools in Scotland but not all schools play rugby. This has led to the demise of Scottish rugby, that and the professional era, where everything is about the big W to get the money in. It has been quoted in the articles th...See more

  2. Fraser Stewart on fB
    Very good article. I film for Watsonians RFC in Edinburgh every Saturday and I've seen some really bad injuries over the last 5 years. Yet I think it's a great game and therefore I would hate schools to stop rugby. But like you said...until a child a c...See more

    Andrew Height
    Only horse riding is more dangerous in death terms, but it is the most dangerous sport based on volume of injuries. I would not recommend it to the house.

    Anne Donaldson
    I played rugby at end of term against the schools 15 but would never dream about going near a horse. They bite apart from the size of the beggars

    Fraser Stewart
    I watched a documentary about polo riders. You have to admire their horseman skills and bravery. I can ride but I would be terrified to do what they do with ease.


  3. David Jones on FB
    The captain was a star!!

    Andrew Height
    He was MayfaIr. No complaints.

    Andrew Height
    Nice smile also wink emoticon

  4. Vicky Sutcliffe on FB
    Hmmm split household here on this topic. I believe school rugby is dangerous as the teachers are not trained in the sport and the safety rules are not as comprehensive as they should be. Club rugby on the other hand is managed very differently, with m...See more

    Andrew Height
    I am with you all the way my dear. But i have seen friends so badly hurt and I have been hospitalised myself. I once bit a boy's ear half off ( I was loosehead prop and he was hooker) I was hoping things might have changed, but not it seems. A great sport, but not a hunt I think. xxx

    Vicky Matson
    Vic agree with your comments re: school v club rugby. RFU now very strict re: club rugby and standards etc...but they can't intervene in schools so much. x

    Vicky Matson although I should add many clubs like Scarborough have dedicated youth development workers going into schools and working with the teachers x

    Andrew Height
    A long time ago, but we were told to go in hard and hurt. Fun at the time, but people really did get hurt. Still loved it at that moment though. Sad really.

    Gloria Brown
    I remember when Nigel Cooke broke his leg

    David Jones Me
    too but I wouldn't change anything

    Bob Smart
    Was tackling a big part of your game David Jones?

    David Jones
    No, that's why my body is intact lol

    David Jones
    I may be wrong here but I believe that the annual Founders Day fixture of the school 1st XV v OT was stopped years ago on safety grounds. I played in several of those games on both sides and they were always played in a very good spirit - Barbarians style and not a lot of 'crunch'.

    Bob Smart
    Loved those games - rugby played in the right spirit

  5. Dave Harbour on FB
    I played for my school and county and also later for Chinnor RFC as loose head prop. My back is damaged also my knee. I have numerous broken teeth to boot!
    I would fully support the compulsory wearing of head gear and some type of body protection for the shoulders and hip and thigh area. I have suffered the pain of a fractured cheek and I'm not proud to say it but I have broken other players bones so for children of school age I would like to see them protected. But as for touch rugby it's nowhere near what proper rugby is about, it's a full on contact sport designed to get every bit of pent up anger and frustration out of your system, for me it was an adrenalin rush from day one.
    Wrapping the kids up in cotton wool and bubble wrap will kill the sport as when they leave school and join a fully fledged adult team we will have another bunch of football pansies and we don't want that do we?