Bigger players, more injuries?

A medical study has urged lawmakers to curb injuries by rewarding speed instead of size, but is weight really the problem?

“Injury severity is increasing, and this may be linked to greater forces (caused by greater body mass) occurring in contact,” said a study reportedly published in the BMJ Open Sport & Exercise Medicine journal last year. “Law-makers should adjust the rules to encourage speed and skill at the expense of mass.”

Pat Lambie announced his retirement from the game on Saturday as a result of recurring concussion symptoms. The 56-Test Springbok flyhalf is 28.

According to a study, the average weight of players in the 1955 Five Nations championship was 85kg, a full 20kgs lighter than the average weight of the players chosen to represent England in this year’s European championship.

While less than 2% of the participants in the 1955 Five Nations tipped the scales in triple digits, that number jumped to 65% in 2015 and the average injury duration has more than doubled.

“We need to look at the injury data and see if there are changes to the laws that can be made,” said RFU medical director Dr Simon Kemp.

It’s an indisputable fact that players are much bigger than they were 60 years ago and injuries are on the rise, but it’s debatable whether the relationship between these two factors is as direct as it seems.

For example, the average weight of the starting XV in the 1995 Rugby World Cup final (101kgs) is only marginally lighter than the Bok team that lined up for the final Test of 2018 (104kgs), and yet the volume and severity of rugby injuries in 2018 was significantly higher than in 1995.

Professionalism and law changes are arguably much bigger catalysts for the injury wave than size has been. Full-time players are being conditioned at unprecedented levels, which means players are colliding with more frequency at higher speeds in 2018 than they were in 1995. And match tactics are also ruthlessly tweaked for efficiency, which means that, as an example, ball-carriers are being driven into a defender by a latcher.

The modern use of the bench should be the prime suspect in this investigation. In 1955, substitutions were made in emergencies and only Garry Pagel came off the Bok bench during regulation time of the 1995 Rugby World Cup final.

In November, the entire Bok bench featured against Wales. This has created a situation where half of the players on the pitch in the final 30 minutes of a match are making contact with replacement players who are flying around at top speed.

— Staff Writer

- All Out Rugby Staff Writer

Let's chat

  • Barry

    The story has as its basis the recently retirement of Pat Lambie, but really we should be separating regular sports injury from acts of thuggery!

    For example, the “Canon Ball” charge on Lambie by Stander, had little to do with the increased size of players, but more to do with intent to do injury! Taking out the play maker is not new!

    The laws currently only offer prescribed sanction based on certain penalisable actions, but the consequence of those actions are not taken into account as they are in common law, nor is intent.

    One obviously wants the game to flow and we don’t want on field court cases, but where players are carded and match official review these action after match, then surely, intent and consequence should be among the criteria for arriving at suitable sanction? Standers one week ban for what was effectively a career ending charge seems a little on the light side, surely?

    • Chris Mouton

      Yeah, the consistency regarding sanctions and cards is laughable! I would however not vilify CJ Stander. Just as there was no malicious intent with Kwagga a few years ago a serious injury could’ve happened. Rugby is a collision sport and these things happen. It’s just part of the game. It’s part of the risk. This is where coaches and players need to take responsibility for the players’ safety, which is what Lambie did. Yes, he wasn’t the same player after that injury from Stander, but these things happen.

      • Barry

        Chris not sure I agree on the Stander issue. His guise was that he was charging down the ball! You charge down with the full face of your body and not sideways with your legs drawn up with a leading hip at head height! There was NO attempt to soften the impact or withdraw and Lambie had already run three steps further after kicking the ball. It was a professional hit!

        • John Comyn

          I just had another look at it. It was late as well as a poorly executed charge down attempt and deserved the red card and a much longer sanction than he got. I think calling it a “professional hit” is stretching it a bit. As far as I know CJ no record of being a dirty player and I very much doubt he got the instruction to take Lambie out.

          • Chris Mouton

            I had another look at it yesterday and I’m now quite convinced that it was targeting. I asked myself the question: What if CJ managed to deflect the ball? He still would’ve landed with his arse in Lambie’s face. It still would’ve been a red card. Barry, you’re right, a charge down is led with the full face of the body. CJ basically ruined Lambie’s career with that hit. Everybody could see that Lambie wasn’t the same after that hit.

          • Dean Bright

            It was pretty cynical IMO. He is jumping into a player at head height. Usually a legitimate charge down a player merely jumps straight up, not go flying through the air at the player’s shoulder/head height. He should have been banned for 3 months at least. It’s ended a players career really.

          • Barry

            John, very difficult to understand how it could be anything other than a professional hit! Long before he makes impact, he drops his arms to his side. At.this point he knew it was no longer about a charge down, yet he continued to follow through, making absolutely no attempt to withdraw.
            The significance of the impact was immediate yet Stander shows no concern or remorse, he just trots off!

  • Chris Mouton

    In my opinion the reason why injuries are more wont to happen is because players play too much rugby. South Africans are especially guilty of this where a few of them go earn extra cash in Europe or Japan during the off-season. The human body can only take so much before it breaks. Look at what the Du Preez brother’ stints did. Jean-Luc is injured again. I think injuries to Whiteley and Jaco Kriel were also because of not taking a rest. It’s a miracle that PS du Toit didn’t get injured in all the minutes he played. Rugby is faster and more physical than 20 years ago. We need to manage the players a lot better than we currently do.

    • Dean Bright

      I agree! There’s far too much rugby being played. Fans are also losing interest because there’s far too much rugby being played.

  • John Comyn

    I did not know Lambie was only 28. It’s such a pity his career has been cut short. Lambie & Pollard would have been my 1st choice flyhalves for the WC. Clearly the knock he took has long term repercussions and one can only hope he is going to be okay going forward. I hope he does something rugby related in his career!

Comments are closed.