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Play up, play up and play the game

Monday, 22 May 2017

In recent years, much has been made of the dangers of playing rugby, especially at school level. Schools have looked at banding by weight, changed rules about mixed age rugby and are constantly evaluating how to make the game safer. There is no question that playing a contact sport will come with some inherent risk but so does crossing the road; it doesn’t mean we don’t do it every day.

There is a popular running myth that smaller players get injured more often. At prep school I was amongst the smallest in my year; I was nippy on the wing but keen to avoid too much contact. I remained uninjured throughout my time on the pitch. Moving on to senior school, I grew so fast in one year that I have stretch marks on my thighs; once I bulked out, the impact meant a move to the scrum where I inevitably experienced a much higher rate of injury. I was gangly, trying to work out how to move in this new stretched body and trying to control a much larger machine. Interestingly, recent studies have also spoken to larger players being injured more often so clearly further thought continued to be needed to understand how and why injuries occur and what, if anything, we can do to stop them.

Since the implementation of the crouch, bind, set rules, put in place as a result of a study at the University of Bath, focus on player welfare has been strong. A Monkton pupil studying the issue of injury in Rugby, frustrated by an injury which took him out for a season earlier in his life, quoted Eddie Jones in his final report saying, ‘there are things in my game I need to fix’. It is great to see pupils with such a growth mindset that they are not to be defeated by a challenge but to prefer to understand it, to face it down; while injury was ‘extremely frustrating’, he wrote, he ‘could not wait to play rugby again’. As with any aspect of life, the key for us is not to accept things which present a problem but to look to use all the powers we have to mitigate risk and create opportunity.

To extend my earlier simile, then, we need to identify and establish a green cross code for rugby; whilst nothing will guarantee a player’s safety, advances in warm ups and fitness regimes are having a significant impact. Monkton was a pilot school and early adopter of the programme developed by Bath University in association with the RFU which has seen injury rates drop by over 70%. The media has been keen in recent years to demonise rugby, and the public schools with which it is so often associated, so it was a welcome change to enjoy a visit from the BBC to Monkton in the early morning sunshine last week to report on the impact of this training programme giving us a chance to celebrate the many opportunities which playing a complex, physical team sport brings. In a world where child obesity is rising, where too many children prefer to play sport on a Wii than a games pitch and where politicians spend a great deal of time encouraging our young people to exercise, it is important we remember the huge amount of work that goes into developing sport to be ever safer, more competitive and more fun, both for players and spectators.  The Monkton Director of Sport, Kevin Morris, one of only 25 accredited RFU Coach Educators in the country, is happy to offer support to any school who would like to know more about this training. If Rugby is to survive and thrive, we need to recognise the need to control injury; this study is a major step forward in securing the future of the game for all. We need to celebrate the results and spread the word.

Chris Wheeler

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