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